It is good news that women now account for over half of all apprentices. We continue to implement apprenticeship reforms to improve the quality of apprenticeships for all, and we are using the employer apprenticeship diversity champions network to champion gender representation in industries where greater participation by women is still needed.
I thank the Minister for her response. The National College for Nuclear opens in my neighbouring constituency on 9 February. This will add to an already fantastic asset of training facilities with world-class equipment. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that young people with disabilities are able to access these training courses and apprenticeships?
It is great news that the National College for Nuclear is opening shortly, enabling young people and others in the area to access the sort of education and skills that they need for the future. We want to ensure that apprenticeship opportunities are open to all people, and of course that includes people with disabilities. We provide additional funding to employers and training providers working with apprentices with disabilities, to support their learning and enable adjustments to the workplace. As well as engaging employers through the apprenticeship diversity champions network, we are working to ensure that Disability Confident badging is clear for vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship website, including those for engineering roles.
The further education college and the university in Chichester offer a wide range of courses giving young people in my constituency access to high-quality apprenticeships. However, I am concerned that only 21% of places for degree-level apprenticeships in digital, tech and management are filled by women. That is the same as it was 30 years ago when I did that apprenticeship. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage more women and girls to take up apprenticeships as a pathway to a successful career?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is not enough that more than 50% of apprenticeships are being taken up by women. We want to ensure that there is greater diversity, particularly in areas where lower numbers of women are participating than we would like. Our careers strategy sets out a long-term plan to build a world-class careers system to help young people and adults to choose the career that is right for them, and promotes gender equality by increasing young people’s contact with employers, demonstrating different jobs and career paths to raise aspirations. In addition, a new legal requirement means that schools must give providers the chance to talk to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships. In that way, we hope to raise awareness of the additional routes that are available to young people.
I am delighted that 580 people started apprenticeships in Southend last year. Will my right hon. Friend please advise me on what more she can do to incentivise local employers to offer even more apprenticeships to women in Southend?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on having a high level of apprenticeship starts in his constituency, but he also makes the point that we need to ensure that women are starting apprenticeships in a variety of areas, and particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—subjects, where they are underrepresented at the moment, with only about 8% of participants being women. We are focusing additional efforts on working with employers through the apprenticeship diversity network to ensure that they show young people the opportunities available in other areas, particularly in the STEM area.
In July last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who is in his place, made insulting comments, following Government pension changes, about how women born in the 1950s should take up apprenticeships to try to address some of the financial burdens that they face. Will the new Minister set out how many women born in the 1950s and affected by the Government pension changes have taken up apprenticeships? It is frankly nothing more than an insult to all the women who worked for all those years and whose pensions have been delayed by six years.
I would like to correct the hon. Gentleman. This Government wholly respect women in their 50s—I have an interest to declare in that particular area—and we will always ensure that apprenticeships are available to people of all ages. Between August 2016 and April 2017, the number of apprenticeship starts was over 53,000 for people aged 45 to 59 and over 3,400 for people aged 60 and over. That represents an increase on the previous year, and we hope to continue that increase.
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, barriers to access are a problem for women in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister outline what engagement she and her officials have undertaken with Departments and agencies in Northern Ireland to identify best practice and to try to find workable solutions to eliminate such barriers?
We have regular meetings with Ministers from Northern Ireland, and we will always ensure that we share information and best practice where we can, so that women and other people who want to participate in apprenticeships, such as people with disabilities, can access the additional opportunities that we are determined to provide.
Is the Minister aware of the latest report from the Young Women’s Trust? It shows that two in five apprentices spend more money in completing their apprenticeship than they earn and that women face an 8% gender pay gap. Is the Minister prepared to act on the trust’s recommendations to increase the number of women accessing high-quality apprenticeships?
It is essential that we give women all the opportunities that we can to access the high-quality apprenticeships to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I have not seen that report, but I will certainly take a look and come back to him.