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Apprenticeships

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

Apprenticeship starts for women have gone up from 52% to 53% approximately; for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, they have gone up from 10.4% to 11.2%; and for those with learning disabilities or difficulties, they are up from 9.9% to 10.3%. There is a great deal of work going on to broaden participation. The apprenticeship diversity champions network and the Careers and Enterprise Company are both doing an excellent job. I could go on, but I will not try your patience, Mr Speaker.

I am glad the Minister agrees that people with learning disabilities can make a valuable contribution to the workplace. She has mentioned the numbers, but will she say what the Government are doing to increase the chances for those with learning difficulties and disabilities to access apprenticeships?

Indeed, I will, and I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in this. We have said that we will implement the Maynard taskforce recommendations in full. That includes introducing flexibility, so that the English and maths requirements can be adjusted for a defined group with a learning difficulty or disability. We have also made British sign language qualifications an alternative to English functional skills for those who have it as their first language. Of course, I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

I welcomed the announcement in July of a new apprenticeship procurement process for non-levy employers. What assurances can the Minister give that the Department is now better placed to award apprenticeship funding to those employers who are so keen to train our young people?

My hon. Friend is right that the procurement that was launched in July will ensure that there is good geographical coverage, stability of provision and high-quality apprenticeship training for small and medium-sized enterprises, but I accept that this has been an unsettling time. We are making £440 million available between January 2018 to April 2019 as an interim measure before employers get on to the proper apprenticeship system.

The Social Mobility Commission recommends that the application process for apprenticeships should be made clearer and simpler, and be better co-ordinated across institutions, so applicants can see what courses are available and what their outcomes will be—a bit like what happens when applying for university courses. Do the Government intend to introduce such a scheme?

We are looking at a number of measures. As the hon. Lady rightly says, clarity is very important. The long-awaited and eagerly anticipated careers strategy will set out some work on this, but a lot of other work is going on. We have to make sure that apprenticeships are easy to apply for and that it is easy to see exactly what they will give apprentices at the end of their apprenticeships.

The Young Women’s Trust points to a gender pay gap of 8% between women and men apprentices. What are the Government doing to close the gap?

I will not miss an opportunity to remind businesses that they have until April next year to report their gender pay gaps. [Interruption.] That includes unions and Departments. I am pleased that apprenticeship starts for women have gone up, but I recognise there are issues around pay. The bottom line is that we want to ensure access for all young women in particular, but older women, too, many of whom are taking up apprenticeships as a way of returning to the workplace.

Ofsted says that 37% of apprentice providers are not of good quality, and that does not include the 1,200 subcontractors. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that Ofsted should inspect subcontractors? Will she review the extent of subcontracting and ensure that all apprentices receive the quality training they deserve?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he did excellent work in this area in his previous role. What matters to me is that every pound spent produces a pound’s worth of good, high-quality training. We are looking at subcontracting to ensure money goes to where it is needed: producing high-quality apprenticeships that young people and employers value.

If we are looking to broaden apprenticeship participation, it helps to have as many people starting them as possible, but total apprenticeship starts in the three months since the levy came in, in spring, are down by a disastrous 61%. Why are Ministers not doing anything to promote traineeships, which can be game-changers for people accessing apprenticeships? With a 30% drop in traineeship starts by 19 to 24-year-olds this year and last week’s critical comments from the Education Policy Institute, is it not time they did something?

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman expresses dismay about apprenticeships. We need to talk apprenticeships up. There was a 47% increase between February and April 2017. We know there has been a fall in the number of starts, but that was anticipated because we have brought in a brand new system. He is absolutely right that traineeships play an important part in ensuring a path on which young people can travel to get on, but I urge him to speak up for apprenticeships and apprentices and to do everything in his power to encourage employers to take on apprentices.