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Apprenticeships (Alternative English Completion Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Volume 747: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Apprenticeships (Alternative English Completion Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2013.

Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, these regulations introduce an amendment to the alternative completion conditions for English apprenticeships. As noble Lords know, employment is usually a precondition of any apprenticeship. Indeed, experience of genuine employment is what sets apprenticeships apart from most other forms of vocational training and gives apprentices a real head start in their careers.

Apprentices have a unique opportunity to learn from one or more mentors, and to develop, practice and hone real occupational skills. The apprentice will work alongside the master, watching, copying and refining their skills. For his part, the employer will demonstrate, guide and correct the apprentice’s work. Both apprentice and employer have a real stake in the apprentice’s development and success. Noble Lords will be aware of the value of this approach and of the part employment plays more generally in guaranteeing the quality of the training offered through apprenticeships and of its contribution to the apprentice’s future value to prospective employers. However, in a very limited number of cases an exception to employed status is needed, and this is what the alternative completion conditions specify.

This issue was thoroughly debated during the passage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act, and there was agreement on all sides that some specific groups should not be denied access to apprenticeships because they could not meet the requirement for employment. Regulations were approved last year to cover three types of exception. First, there are apprentices who begin their training while in employment but are made redundant during the course of the apprenticeship due to changes in the employer’s circumstances. Secondly, the provisions support athletes hoping to represent the nation in an Olympic, Paralympic or Commonwealth Games discipline. Thirdly, there are a very small number of jobs or occupational areas in which employed status is not the norm. A few of these were approved for apprenticeships last year, and today I am looking for the Committee’s support to add one further case.

In 2012, the first set of alternative completion conditions were approved, with the assurance that these would be reviewed regularly. We remain adamant that only very exceptional cases must be allowed in order to ensure that the quality of all apprenticeships is not compromised. The Government have carefully considered all subsequent applications and decided that only one of the three submitted should be taken forward. The advanced apprenticeship in maritime occupations shares common features with the others previously approved in Schedule 1. Apprentices will be engaged in a commercial activity and supported by experienced colleagues involved in a collective venture.

I assure noble Lords that this is not the thin end of any wedge. Extending alternative completion conditions to able seamen and trainee officers in the Merchant Navy will ensure the best start to naval careers and reduce the maritime sector’s reliance on recruiting personnel from overseas. The exceptions provided for under the regulations reflect the Government’s desire to ensure that otherwise able candidates are not excluded from the possibility of gaining an apprenticeship by force of circumstance. The regulations accordingly tread a very careful line between recognising and providing for such circumstances and continuing to guarantee the quality of the qualification to which training will lead. That is consistent with the Government’s recent response to Doug Richard’s review of apprenticeships.

On that basis, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining these regulations. I say at the outset that I very much welcome them. I declare an interest as the patron of the Maritime London Officer Cadet scheme. This change has arisen out of an anomaly that arose that restricted apprenticeships in the Merchant Navy.

The apprentice framework for maritime occupations unfortunately fell between two stools—two sets of statutory requirements, one being the specification of apprenticeship standards for England, the SASE, and the other the regulation supporting European Community guidelines on maritime transport state aid. To satisfy the former, trainee officers had to be employed but were forbidden from being employed by the European regulations, so there was a problem there. I am delighted to say that although it has taken a while, things have worked out well, and these new regulations do not alter that.

I do not need to tell your Lordships that the Merchant Navy annually recruits some 800 or 900 entrants into the business. Deck officer and engineer cadets generally have two to three years’ training. In the Merchant Navy, we prefer to call them cadets, not apprentices, but they are in fact the same thing. It is very important that we continue to train sufficient numbers of these young officers, because although our Merchant Navy has declined over the years, these young officers can still get very worthwhile jobs working for foreign companies, and after being at sea for a number of years they can come ashore and fill the multitude of maritime-related jobs ashore, not least in the City of London. I very much welcome these regulations.

My Lords, I, too, welcome these regulations. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said. He is an expert in this field, and it seems that this is a seaworthy recommendation from the Government.

I have a couple of comments to make. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“It is intended that the certifying authority, which will be the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, will issue guidance from time to time on the administrative arrangements relating to the application and awarding of apprenticeship certificates. This guidance will cover circumstances where the standard completion conditions do not apply. The Secretary of State is not intending to issue guidance”.

I am quite pleased. The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils should have the right experience and occupational awareness, but there ought from time to time to be some check that that guidance meets the necessary standards and criteria. I would welcome the Minister’s views on that.

I am not expecting an answer from the Minister today, but I was somewhat surprised to see that the number of under-19 apprenticeship starts as a proportion of the total for all ages in England shows a decrease in 2010-11 and 2011-12 at the same time as the total annual number of vacancies for apprenticeships increased from around 43,000 to just over 100,000. Furthermore, the proportion of candidate applications for apprenticeships for under-19 year-olds had decreased from 2009-10, while it had been increasing for over-19s. I find it surprising that demand is less than supply. My experience is that it is usually the other way round. I like to quote British Telecom apprenticeships; you can get into Oxford or Cambridge more easily than you can get a British Telecom apprenticeship. There are something like 300 apprenticeships and usually about 25,000 applications.

I am really puzzled by those figures. I am not expecting an answer this afternoon. The only thing I can think of is that the figures do not compare like with like and are about a decrease for under-19s as a percentage of the total. That could be because the number of apprenticeships available in that range has also slightly decreased, if my memory serves me right, although the overall figures have gone up. I think that is the answer, but this is an important area. I apologise for slightly extending the range of questions, but as it occurred in the Explanatory Memorandum, I thought it was fair game. Apart from that, I am happy to endorse the government recommendation.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and for their support for this statutory instrument. I was interested to hear the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on this and to learn that the Merchant Navy prefers the term “cadets” to “apprentices”. In most fields, we see cadets as slightly different from apprentices, but the maritime world has its own long-established ways of doing things. It was also good to hear that when people get these qualifications it means that they will bring expertise back into land-based fields. The City of London has a great tradition of maritime-based trade and expertise. I can see that that is a good career option for people from the maritime world.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Young, that the Government have a close relationship with the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and that there will be monitoring and checking as we continue with these measures. The Government are trying to address the decrease in the number of under-19s in a number of sectors, although the total number of apprenticeships has increased significantly. We are, for instance, looking at a grant for employers and various other incentives, which should make it more straightforward for employers to bring the under-19s into different schemes.

I have indeed heard the noble Lord talk about the BT apprenticeships, which are highly sought after. I spent an interesting day on Friday visiting British Airways and its apprenticeship scheme. I was told that there had been 20 applications for every place on the programme. Some large employers are doing enormously valuable work in bringing in apprentices. It is extremely encouraging to see the enthusiasm of young people who find themselves on these programmes and their real commitment to, and focus on, work. We certainly wish that to continue while apprenticeships grow across all sectors.

I have probably answered the queries of noble Lord, Lord Young, at least in part. I think that there is widespread agreement that this is a good move forward.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.