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Volume 725: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to maximise the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds.

My Lords, the Government are strongly committed to investment in apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds. The latest data show that 116,800 young people started an apprenticeship in 2009-10, a 17.5 per cent increase on 2008-09, and we are keen to see continued growth. Some 60 per cent of the overall apprenticeship budget for 2010-11 is for 16 to 18 year-olds. We expect there to be more than 131,000 16 to 18 year-olds starting an apprenticeship in 2010-11. Funding for 16 to 18 apprenticeships will increase by a further £19 million in 2011-12.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. I was impelled to ask this Question as this is National Apprenticeship Week, as I am sure he is aware, and we have record levels of youth unemployment. The previous Government achieved a record number of apprenticeships, rising from 65,000 to nearly 280,000. I am glad to see that there will be an increase in spending. The Government are asking businesses to co-operate in recruiting apprentices but what pressure are the Government putting on government departments and local authorities to recruit apprentices, especially in the 16 to 18 years range?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the Question in National Apprenticeship Week, as he said. I am very aware that few people in this House have done more to promote the cause of apprenticeships than him. I know that he takes a personal interest in this. During his time as a Minister, he and his ministerial colleagues did a lot to get apprenticeships taken seriously again and to increase the number of them. I personally, and the Government generally, are keen to build on that. In National Apprenticeship Week, we have already seen a number of employers in the private sector coming forward with new apprenticeship schemes. The Government should absolutely keep up the pressure on the public sector to do so. There is an exemption on apprenticeship recruitment in government departments—that is one way we can help. However, I agree with him that we all need to keep up the pressure. I would be very keen to work with him and other noble Lords to raise the profile of apprenticeships and do what we can to encourage the provision of more places.

My Lords, how far have the Government succeeded in finding employers to take up these new apprenticeships, and how many of them are college-based, programme-led apprenticeships?

I believe that 85,000 employers are involved. A number of large employers have increased their offers of apprenticeship places in National Apprenticeship Week. The National Apprenticeship Service can encourage more employers of all sizes—not just large employers—to become involved. There is a task for everyone in raising the profile and importance of apprenticeships, and in making it easier for employers to become involved. There is an issue around the bureaucracy involved in this. If we can make it simpler for employers to participate, we should do so.

My Lords, I congratulate both Governments on their records on making more apprenticeships available. Does the Minister agree that it is equally important to make more apprenticeships available to those in the age group somewhat above the 16 to 18 year-olds, who may well have missed out on previous opportunities, no doubt often due to circumstances such as deprived backgrounds?

My Lords, I am glad to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that as well as increasing the number of apprenticeships available for 16 to 18 year-olds, we are increasing the number available to people older than 19.

My Lords, the Minister is right to pay tribute to the excellent work of my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green, who, when he was a Minister, legislated in this House to bring forward a guarantee of an apprenticeship place for every suitably qualified 16 and 17 year-old. Why, then, will the Minister’s own Education Bill get rid of that apprenticeship guarantee?

The difference between us is in essence a philosophical one. As I hope I have demonstrated, both sides of the House are committed to the idea of increasing the number of apprenticeships, their status and the esteem in which they are held. The difficulty with the previous approach of offering a guarantee is that, given that apprenticeships are employer-based, they are dependent on employers providing the place in work, which is not in the gift of government to control. Giving a guarantee on which one cannot deliver does not seem to me to be a guarantee.

My Lords, I welcome what the Government are doing with regard to apprenticeships and giving young people a chance, but can steps be taken to contact self-employed journeymen and journeywomen— there are far more of them now than has ever been the case previously—to encourage them to take on apprentices? Small businesses and self-employed people are worried about the administration involved in apprenticeships. Can they be helped with the administration? Nothing beats a self-employed man or woman taking on an apprentice and becoming a mentor to him or her.

I have huge sympathy with the noble Lord’s point and agree with him entirely. I am sure that we can do more. We are trying to establish a system across the country but journeymen face difficulties in this regard. I know of a local farrier in my village who wants to take on a young lad but it is not straightforward, so I very much take that point on board and will certainly look into it.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the challenges of getting businesses and organisations to take on young people as apprentices. That is why the Labour Government required public sector bodies to commit to provide a number of apprenticeships. Therefore, why have this Government now absolved the Civil Service, local authorities and health bodies—all of them major employers—from those specific commitments? Does the Minister not agree that the public sector should show a lead here and help to meet the huge demand for apprenticeships among young people?

As I have already said, I accept fully that there is a role for both the public and private sectors to play. If we are able to encourage more people from the private sector to offer good apprenticeships with good opportunities for employment and progression, that is good, and young people are keen to get into those kinds of jobs. However, I also accept that we should do as much as we can to encourage the public sector to play its fair share as well.