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Volume 633: debated on Monday 11 December 2017

11. What progress her Department has made on meeting its 2020 target for quality apprenticeship starts. (902853)

We are determined to reach 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020. There have been 1.1 million new apprenticeship starts since 2015, but quality is also important. I am pleased that there were 24,600 starts on new employer-designed apprenticeship standards in 2016-17. That is a huge increase from 4,300 the year before.

Given that average monthly apprenticeship starts are 17% lower than they need to be to hit the Government’s 2020 target, does the Minister agree that local leaders and businesses are better equipped to meet that target than the Conservative Government?

If he talks to employers, the hon. Gentleman will find that it is only because of the reforms we have introduced, which have allowed employers to be at the very heart of the process, that we have made the progress we have. Numerous Governments have attempted to do something about apprenticeships, but it is only now that we are seeing real change.

According to a new Sutton Trust report, “Better Apprenticeships”, two thirds of apprenticeships are the result of merely rebadging existing employee training as apprenticeships. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that existing employees are participating in substantial training to develop new skills, and not just being accredited for their existing competence?

This is critical. I have talked to apprentices and employers about apprenticeships, and there is no doubt that we have a skills shortage. Employers are absolutely determined to make sure that they have the workforce they need to deliver the skills they will need for their businesses in future.

24. Fareham College, which is a great champion of vocational training and apprenticeships, was recently rated outstanding by Ofsted. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating its principal, Nigel Duncan, and the staff and students who are all working so hard so that those students are equipped with training and skills fit for the future? (902867)

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Fareham College. In fact, I recently met an employer who has started an innovative co-operation with that college, which is doing a brilliant job and really addressing the skills shortages in the area. It is good to see employers coming together, working successfully with a local college, and making sure that they have the power behind them to get the skills that are under-represented in the area.

Will the Minister update the House on her Department’s work to encourage more people with learning disabilities to get involved in apprenticeships and join the labour market?

Yes. We are doing a huge amount of work; I know that my hon. Friend, as chairman of the all-party group on apprenticeships, is doing a lot of work himself. We have specific targets: we want people with learning disabilities to represent 20% of all apprenticeship starts by 2020. We have made progress, and the trajectory for people with learning disabilities is going up.[Official Report, 15 January 2018, Vol. 634, c. 3MC.]