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Apprenticeships: Ethnic Minorities

Volume 737: debated on Monday 18 June 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people from an ethnic-minority background aged 16 to 24 are undertaking apprenticeships.

My Lords, final data for the 2010-11 academic year show that 8.7%—that is, 23,890—of new apprentices aged under 25 were from an ethnic minority background. This figure has increased from 7.2% in 2009-10.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, she will be aware that over 55% of black men aged between 18 and 24 are currently unemployed, a figure which has nearly doubled since 2008; that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the Government’s apprenticeship schemes in the more prestigious industries such as construction and engineering; and that those who do manage to get on an apprenticeship scheme are less likely to progress to a related job. So although I welcome the review they are undertaking, will the Government address in this review and monitor the number of ethnic-minority people—as well as women and people with disabilities—who are taking up these apprenticeships in order to ensure equal access?

I agree with my noble friend that there is scope to ensure that apprenticeships better support learners from a wide range of backgrounds. I am aware of her interest and her expertise in this area and her excellent work for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. My colleagues in the other place and I are very keen that the apprenticeships programme should be genuinely accessible to all. I do not have time to go into it all now, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet with my noble friend to discuss any more thoughts she may have that we can take forward.

Does the Minister know how many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people have been offered apprenticeships, and if not could she please find out?

I heard the question as being about Travellers. I do not have any information on that here with me now but I would be only too delighted to talk to the noble Baroness. We have seen an awful lot of programmes on the television recently about weddings and Travellers et cetera, and I think that we have all become much more familiar with the life they lead and the difficulties associated with that roaming lifestyle. I would be only too delighted to come back with the information, not only for the noble Baroness but for myself.

Is it not good news that apprenticeships in general are increasing? Furthermore, the proportion of apprenticeships that are going to the ethnic community is increasing. Is it not a fact that the shortfall is in particular areas of the country? Certainly in the East Midlands, which is the area I know a bit about, the number of ethnic apprentices is, as far as I am aware, pretty competitive, and they are getting good jobs at the end of it.

My noble friend is quite right: there are things to celebrate. The number of apprenticeships is growing, and we want to ensure that they take people forward to the skills that we require. We have two pilot schemes running at the moment. Diversity pilots are investigating ways of increasing apprenticeship take-up and success, and a final evaluation of these will be done very soon. We have also just started the Richard review into the future of apprenticeships to examine where they are happening across the country and how. So, yes, I agree with my noble friend.

Is the noble Baroness aware of the project being run by Unionlearn, which is part of the TUC? It is working with SEMTA and the sector skills councils on equality and diversity and, specifically, on apprentices in the engineering sector. I wonder whether the Minister would like to use that as a good example for use in ensuring that all that has been said previously will take place.

I am delighted to answer that question. Yes, I do know about Unionlearn, and I know that it is going well. The National Apprenticeship Service and the TUC are planning to carry out research into this issue. The apprenticeship unit has met with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the TUC to ensure that people from all ethnic backgrounds are able to access apprenticeships and are supported throughout those apprenticeships. I am only too delighted to be working with the TUC.

Will my noble friend please tell the House how many apprentices have been recruited to her own department and how many of them, as a percentage, come from ethnic-minority backgrounds?

My noble friend has asked a very good question which he knows I cannot answer. I would love to have an apprentice or two. Unfortunately, we have cut down on our staff so much—

Yes, we have. We have had to cut down on the number of staff in BIS to ensure that we can actually be economically viable. However, we would love to feel that we could start taking on apprentices, if we could have enough people to help train them on with us.

My Lords, the noble Lord who spoke earlier mentioned the East Midlands. For several years we were working very hard with the mental health trust in the East Midlands to recruit a number of young people with mild learning disabilities and mental health problems into apprenticeship schemes. Unfortunately, when this Government came in that funding was withdrawn. What is the Minister doing to help young people with mental health problems and learning disabilities get into apprenticeships?

I cannot give the noble Lord details at the moment but I will of course write to him on what we are doing. Cutting down in any area like this is obviously difficult. No Government want to come in and find that the coffers are so empty that they have to withdraw that sort of help.

My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that the Government will look at all aspects of the apprenticeship schemes to ensure that people from all walks of society can be included in them? As we know—I have taken up a great deal of the House’s time on this—the biggest disability group, that of dyslexics, was once excluded. Can we look at the basic structure to make sure that there are no more such mistakes waiting to be unearthed?

My noble friend does wonderful work making sure that dyslexia stays at the very top of my agenda, and he knows that we are working hard to see if we can get the right access criteria for dyslexia. Yes, we will continue to look at any group of young people who are being excluded from work. We cannot afford to have anybody out of work at the moment.

My Lords, while we support the Government’s objectives in focusing on apprenticeships and the drive to increase their quantity, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will maintain the quality of apprenticeships? I am still waiting for a government response to a Question about a recent “Panorama” programme which showed some rather worrying abuses of apprenticeship programmes.

As the noble Lord will know following the very good work that he did on apprenticeships when he was a Minister in this department, we have really extended the number and breadth of the apprenticeships that we are doing. I suppose that there is bound to be the odd mistake every now and again, for which we would be very sorry. However, apprenticeships are central to ensuring that our workforce is equipped to help build economic growth and enable companies to compete globally on behalf of us all.