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Women: Training and Upskilling

Volume 738: debated on Monday 25 June 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their plans with regard to training and upskilling women workers.

My Lords, we want to build a stronger, more prosperous nation and to help women who are on career breaks or upskilling, who wish to return to work or to improve, to make a full contribution to our economic future. We recognise that the skill needs and barriers to opportunity vary widely for each individual, with women often having a more fragmented career path. That is why we are reforming the skills system to make it responsive to the needs of different groups and to ensure that we draw on the talents and skills of all.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Between 2006 and 2012, the Women in Work Sector Pathways initiative provided, via the sector skills councils, training for almost 25,000 women, with employers’ contributions in cash and kind far outstripping those of the Government. Will the Minister tell the House what measures will be taken to ensure that women get a fair share of available training under the new employers’ investment fund, how this is to be measured and what strictures will be laid on employers to encourage them to include women?

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, chaired the Women and Work Commission, the Women’s National Commission and is now deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so to answer a question from her required a bit of study on my part. She was kind enough to let me have sight of her supplementary question. The Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative was indeed very successful. That is why funding has been made available to sector skills councils to build on that legacy. In addition, the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills has today said that it is willing to consider bids specifically to take forward the work of the Pathways Initiative. We want employers to take greater ownership of a skills system that provides better opportunities for women, so one of the criteria for the bids is their sustainability in upskilling women.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us how many women are undertaking engineering degrees? If she cannot give us that figure today, perhaps she would leave a note in the Library, as this is an important area for women to be involved in.

My noble friend Lady Harris is very kind in allowing me to say that I do not have the data with me. I will send a list to her and a copy in the office. I know that 56% of women are now in full-time work, which is useful to know, and the number of women employed rose by 23,000 this quarter. Sadly, I cannot give her the data sets today. We are working hard to make sure that the apprenticeships women take up—and more than half the apprentices in this country are women—are much higher skilled and very often jobs which would have gone to men without even a second thought. So we are on the job.

My Lords, as well as this important side of training women for relevant jobs—retraining them in many cases—would the Minister also ensure that adequate attention is given to young girls? They should be made aware of the needs of the nation and the fact that these are often in completely different areas than the ones that are their favourites today.

I am delighted to answer that question. We are starting in schools; we have an all-age careers service, which will come into schools to talk to girls much earlier than we have done in the past, to give them much more idea of what is available. We have more than 200,000 different apprenticeships available now, including in nuclear decommissioning and all sorts of wondrous things that girls can learn. So, yes, it is an excellent idea.

Does the noble Baroness acknowledge, in the way she responded to my noble friend, the value placed on the sector skills councils in producing these 25,000 women going through the course? What she said sounds like good news, but in the context of the remarks by the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, it is also important to realise that many of the sector skills councils will no longer be involved. There are four sector skills councils left. All are really good and will ensure that engineering has a high profile for women, including Semta, Cogent and others. Any effort that the Minister can make on behalf of the whole process will be really welcome.

I agree completely with what the noble Baroness has said, and I will continue to make sure that we watch what is going on. I visited a building site recently where women who had been long-term unemployed were training as electricians. I was very taken with a mother and daughter who decided to make a team, because they realised that most electricians were male and put all the plugs in the wrong places. They were going to set up their own business, because they think it would be rather good to have a woman electrician coming to a woman’s flat or house at night, and making sure that the hairdryer is going to be plugged in at the right place.

My Lords, while I congratulate my noble friend and applaud her aspirations and achievements, is it really necessary to downgrade the English language in order to upskill these women?

There is no doubt that the world is moving on and we just have to learn new words such as upskilling.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some years ago when I was a member of the EOC we ran the successful WISE campaign—Women Into Science and Engineering. It involved visits to schools and employers, and so on, and was highly successful. Is there not a case for running a similar campaign now?

I, too, remember WISE. I also remember the noble Baroness on these Benches who was one of the first woman engineers in the country and she was very keen on WISE. It is sad that it has gone but we like to think that the things we are doing now are being taken across the board to ensure that girls get the opportunity to do everything available to them.

Is the Minister aware that many women who want to get into the type of jobs she is talking about may not have done well at school and therefore may need to do basic further education training and access courses? Does she think that the imposition of loans and fees at the further education level will encourage such women?

Further education is a special area, about which we are very concerned. We are very keen to make sure that there are all-age apprenticeships and, from 2013, we will introduce further education loans so that people will not be restricted from taking up new opportunities because they are unable to take part.