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Young People: High-skilled Jobs

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2021

Through our plan for jobs, nearly 95,000 young people so far have started a kickstart job; we have extended that scheme to March 2022. More than 100,000 apprentices, of whom 75% were under 25 years old, have been hired under our new incentive payments. More than 17,000 young people have started a traineeship, and we have provided funding for 24,000 traineeships a year at the spending review.

Many of the manufacturers that I have visited recently in my constituency, including Don-Bur and IAE, have told me about the challenges that they face when recruiting for engineering roles. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Government’s work to encourage more young people into those highly skilled roles and attract more apprenticeships to Stoke-on-Trent?

My hon. Friend is always a fantastic champion for Stoke and the wider community. There are 145 employer-designed apprenticeship standards that relate to engineering and manufacturing roles. At the spending review, we announced that funding for apprenticeships will increase to £2.7 billion by 2024-25. We are also continuing to improve the system for employers. That includes an enhanced recruitment service for small and medium-sized enterprises, supporting the use of flexible training models, and a new return-on-investment tool so that employers can see the benefits that apprentices create in their business.

We all welcome the fact that nearly 100,000 young people across the country have already started a job through the kickstart scheme, including 20,000 in London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by extending the scheme until March next year, we are giving more young people the opportunity to develop the skills, confidence and experience that they need to get into high-skilled, high-wage and long-term sustainable jobs?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Kickstart is providing valuable jobs and work experience to thousands of young people. As of last week, nearly 95,000 young people had started a kickstart job, compared with 56,000 young people at the equivalent point for the last Labour Government’s future jobs fund. That shows that it is a very successful programme. With the current pace of starts, we are confident that earlier this month, 100,000 young people will have started a kickstart job.

Education is central to highly skilled jobs. This week, a report by the all-party parliamentary university group, which I chair, showed that young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds most understand the value of a university education. Will the Chief Secretary celebrate the work of universities across the country and perhaps suggest to some of his colleagues that they stop devaluing courses by describing them as of low value?

The hon. Gentleman is right to champion the university sector. We in this country are fortunate in having such a fantastic set of universities, and it is important for young people to have the opportunity to enrol on courses that will meaningfully improve their life chances and career prospects. However, it is also important to balance a strong offer for the university sector with an equally strong vocational offer, and we are keen to strike that balance through the new T-levels and our investment in skills—which was a defining theme of this Budget and spending review—so that whatever young people decide to do, they have a strong and credible route to employment and success.

Scotland leads the world in the development of wave and tidal technologies. The expansion of that sector could create fantastic chances for more young people to secure more highly skilled jobs, and could set them up for possible worldwide opportunities. However, if the sector is to expand, it will need a ring-fenced pot of money in the forthcoming contracts for difference auction. It is believed that the Treasury blocked that concept. Will the Chief Secretary meet me to discuss how changes could be made that would allow the sector to bid and be successful in scaling itself up?

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the contracts for difference mechanism, which has been hugely successful in helping to drive the improved economics of technologies including offshore wind. I think that we as a country should be very proud of that, especially in the week of COP.

There is no doubt that there are exciting opportunities for young people. I think that the Department with which the hon. Gentleman would do best to engage on that is the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am always happy to have any conversations that would be useful in this regard.