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Young People: Apprenticeships

Volume 749: debated on Thursday 28 November 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to increase the take-up of apprenticeships among young people.

My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure for me to lead this topical Question for Short Debate this afternoon. I reassure all noble Lords present that I am conscious of the need for brevity given that this is intended to be a short debate, and will accordingly try to keep my remarks brief. However, I am also conscious that the question of how we can improve the employment prospects for young people is not only topical but worthy of serious debate.

This month’s employment figures were very encouraging, revealing that employment is up 177,000 this quarter while unemployment is down 48,000 in the same period. All in all, there are now more than 1 million more people in work since the general election. Significantly, this month’s figures also revealed a considerable rise in the number of young people in work—up more than 50,000 in the past three months. Noble Lords from all Benches in this House would agree that this is very welcome news.

Apprenticeships have played a pivotal role in helping young people into—in many cases back into—work. Since the Government came to power in 2010, a record 1.5 million apprenticeships have been created. To put that into context, that figure is twice the number created by the previous Labour Government during their final three years in office. A record number have started apprenticeships—half a million in the past year alone, with apprenticeship starts in IT and digital frameworks proving especially popular. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to pay tribute to the continuing popularity of Armed Forces apprenticeships, with around 10,000 completed every year.

Apprenticeships are an invaluable means by which young people can fulfil their individual potential. We must remember the simple truth that no single means of learning will ever suit everyone. Like the National Citizen Service, apprenticeships provide an opportunity for young people to learn new skills, grow in confidence and develop a sense of self-worth and purpose. Those undertaking apprenticeships gain an experience of work that is truly invaluable. They have the opportunity to work alongside experienced staff, gain vocational skills, earn a recognised qualification and, above all, earn a wage. The Government are to be commended for the strides they have taken in making apprenticeships an attractive and viable option both for young people and the businesses that take them on.

As noble Lords are well aware, small and medium-sized business enterprises are the lifeblood of our economy. To make hiring apprentices a more attractive proposition for such companies, the Government must build further on the steps already taken—such as the recently extended apprenticeship grant for employers—to simplify the recruitment process and remove unnecessary bureaucracy. I hope the Minister can shed some light on what the Government are doing in that regard.

It is imperative that we make young people aware of their options at what is a definitive crossroads in their lives. We must accept that for many young people, university is neither an attractive nor viable option. Yet I fear that a large number of teachers seem able only to advocate a university career for their pupils and have little information or enthusiasm for vocational training. That is not the way to find our new-style engineers, technicians, craftsmen and craftswomen, and the entrepreneurs of our future. With that in mind, I wonder whether the Minister can update the House on how the new careers service appears to be performing.

I encourage the Government to do more to restore the esteem in which apprenticeships were once held. We need more role models—more poster boys and poster girls—to bang the drum for apprenticeships. My father was apprenticed. When he finished his original seven years as an apprentice he was sent to be what was then called a journeyman. You had to leave the place where you worked and lived. You had to go off, ply your trade and see whether you could be as good as you thought you were. Ultimately, he returned, recognised as a cabinet maker and thereafter became a master craftsman. His relationship with his mentor was undoubtedly one of the most formative of his life and the platform for so many of the great things he achieved over the rest of his life. As a result, he told me that with a skill you can go anywhere. With those words still ringing in my ears, he packed me off to become an industrial accountant. It is up to noble Lords to decide whether the skill he made me take up earned me the honour of being in this noble House today.

I look forward to listening to the contributions from other Members of your Lordships’ House in this short debate. However, before hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, for whom I have a great deal of admiration having served on the Front Bench opposite him for more than two years, I confess to being saddened by Ed Miliband’s recent foray into the issue of apprenticeships. His pledge that a future Labour Government would require companies both large and small to hire an apprentice for every foreign worker they employ has been widely condemned by a range of business leaders, from the CBI to the IoD, from the chambers of commerce to the small business alliances. That compulsion would discourage more employment. Surely that cannot be what is wanted.

In conclusion, we should never underestimate the challenge faced by many young people wishing to enter the world of work in these difficult times. We should not be complacent following the welcome news that youth unemployment is falling and that the economy is showing signs of life. There is more work to be done, because if we are to harness our potential as a nation we must harness the potential of each and every one of our precious young people. After all, they are our future. Apprenticeships are not just an opportunity to do something for a few years. They are a chance to stand by someone you can admire, and work with someone who can teach you and give you the steering that may not have been possible in your home life. You have someone to travel through life with. I am delighted that this aspect of employment is growing in popularity.

My Lords, when giving evidence to a committee in another place on 30 October, a CBI spokesman stated that it had identified 48 schemes that could help an employer to take on or train a young unemployed person. I am indebted to Professor Sloman for pointing that out and for pointing out that those schemes are funded through three government departments. The DWP funds employment programmes, BIS funds 18-plus skills training and the DfE funds education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds.

To add to the confusion, the Government’s response to the Richard review, published on 28 October, encouraged employers to describe almost any training scheme or initiative as an apprenticeship. The precision, the high standards demanded by employers and the National Apprenticeship Service had been officially abandoned, so that the Government can claim that 500,000 started training, as the noble Baroness told us, but in 2012, only 106,510 places were offered by the service. No wonder employers are confused and becoming disillusioned. This whole thing is becoming a numbers game, with so-called apprenticeships being shamelessly oversold by the Government and intermediaries.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the debate. She and I have debated many times from both the Front and Back Benches. We both come from a business background. We have something else in common. We have both worked hard to try to make the economy successful. Success through the creation of a highly skilled workforce has been important to us. Proper apprenticeships form an important part of that. Proper apprenticeships, which combine a business need with a social need, with a strong emphasis on assisting the business by developing skills in particular to that business. That enables the business to develop, to progress and to innovate. They are not a quick fix to get unemployed young people off the register. Apprentices are required to learn a substantial amount and acquire skills way beyond on-the-job training.

There are plenty of good examples. Many firms accept interested people, young and not so young, on placements and choose candidates for apprenticeships with a structured programme of acquiring skills to a high level of competency and practical training supported by academic study and time spent understanding new technologies. Cogent is the sector skills council for science-based industries. Previously, many companies in that sector look for graduates, but Cogent has set up mechanisms for companies to employ young people who seek career progression through a more practical in-company route, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, spoke. With Cogent, companies can grow their own talent and apprentices gain the skills and knowledge that are important to the employer. That makes Cogent part of the success of our science-based industries.

In the previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others mentioned the BBC. The BBC London apprenticeships are part of the corporation’s legacy from the Olympic Games. The scheme gives 10 trainees a year entry-level jobs in production. The business case here is that it underpins the incentive of making entry level into BBC employment much more accessible.

We are continually told that employers want school leavers to have social and communication skills, team-working skills, literacy and numeracy, and initiative. I am sure that that is absolutely true, but those skills are best developed through school and workplace experience. That is not apprenticeship, and we should not mix the two. One is to achieve a skilled and innovative workforce; the other is to reduce the number of workless young people—of course there are far too many of them.

Will the Government reconsider their response to the Richard review? Will they rationalise the 48 schemes from three departments, because their current position condemns many to be stuck in low-paid jobs and Britain to a lower-skilled workforce?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Wilcox on leading this timely debate and on a constructive speech. The growth of apprenticeships has been a key success of the coalition Government, but there is a lot more to do. As economic recovery gets under way, there are two needs. One is to get business investment up. The second is to redouble investment in vocational training and skills enhancement, especially expanding quality apprenticeships. Together, they have the overall objective of improving employee productivity so that we can compete better internationally.

Our economy has been adjusting to even greater global competition from which there is no escape. Young people entering the labour market and those in vulnerable occupations are most at risk. The current youth unemployment rate is unacceptable. We have also to tackle the social divide between university education and vocational, technical and employment training, which is a barrier to social mobility. Some 50% of our young people can now go to university, but if we do not address the other 50%, we will simply recreate a social divide at 18 rather than 11.

In July, it was encouraging and uplifting for me to share a day with other Liberal Democrat parliamentarians meeting apprentices to see what is being achieved in their workplaces. I visited Stannah lifts in Andover, a family engineering company with a turnover of £145 million and 1,500 staff. At the time, it had significantly more apprentices than the whole of the Department for Business. I hope that my noble friend will update us on the improvement that I know that the department is now making. Stannah, like many family businesses, believes in investing in its staff and its future. Its factory and company are an example to the 80% of workplaces which, sadly, have no apprentices, on what they need to do. If a company invests in its people, it wins their commitment, confidence, flexibility and, above all, their knowledge to compete better.

I spent most of my career in the newspaper industry at a time when, frankly, apprenticeships had a bad name for being too fixed on traditional skills, restricting flexible working and protecting out-of-date skills. Now the perception of apprenticeships is changing. They are not perfect but they are more flexible and more outward-looking by being associated with training outside the workplace, and they place more emphasis on qualification by competence rather than time served.

However, we have to do more if we want to double the number of apprentices that we have had in the past three years. We have to alter the focus, so that getting people on to apprenticeships has as much kudos and prestige as getting on to a university course. We must accept that most progress has in fact been made with the 25-plus age group, whereas the greatest focus for training and apprenticeships should now be on pupils who leave school at 17 or 18. We must question whether schools’ careers services are, frankly, sufficiently geared up to provide the needed links with local employers. Is Ofsted giving as much credit to schools for getting their pupils into apprenticeships and training as it does to university applications?

All companies need pressure and encouragement to make them question whether they are doing enough in this national priority get young people into work and trained. We should build on the initiatives of many local papers, such as the ones I used to run, to publicise how local organisations are getting young people into work and thereby encouraging more to do that. Every government department must question whether it has been doing enough— just as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, challenged the Department for Business in the summer. It would be a good start to have a regular roll of honour and dishonour to see who is doing best and worst in the public sector.

At the end of the 18th century, the Duke of York, as head of the Army, had the task of modernising the British Army, which he did by opening up appointments and transforming military training. His work contributed massively to our military domination in the 19th century in Europe and the rest of the world. The task that we face to compete in world markets now is on a similar scale. If we do not want our economy marching up the hill and back again, as it has done for too long, a new, sustained impetus with cross-party support on apprenticeships, combined with sustained business investment, are now the two key economic priorities for the next 10 years.

My Lords, I welcome this debate on apprenticeships, which are so vital to our future competitiveness and prosperity, and I congratulate the noble Baroness on leading it. I declare my interests as a member of the Apprenticeships, the Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning and the Skills and Employment All-Party Groups, and until recently as a director of a small company that helps to prepare disadvantaged young Londoners for employment, including via apprenticeships. I shall focus on two issues: increasing the number of young people wishing to undertake apprenticeships and expanding the opportunities available to them from employers, particularly SMEs.

The first issue relates to the lack of awareness of young people in schools of the apprenticeship opportunities available to them. I have met quite a number of apprentices and can hardly recall any who had heard about their apprenticeship, or been encouraged to take it up, through their schools. Indeed, I have heard of survey results indicating that one in five current apprentices were actively discouraged by their schools. Sadly, there seems to be an ingrained view that going on to further or higher education is better than going into a practical, job-related training programme, even where that programme offers recognised, high-quality qualifications. Yet for a substantial number of young students, higher education may not offer the most appropriate pathway to a successful career. Many of the apprentices I have met preferred to get into the workplace sooner, and to start earning ahead of their contemporaries, while gaining job-related skills and qualifications and, in some cases, going on to do university degrees at a later stage.

How can we tackle this problem? Of course we should put pressure on schools and careers services to promote apprenticeships as an option where appropriate. This should be included in Ofsted inspections. Schools should be required not only to report destination data for all their students but to achieve a sensible balance between students going on to university and into jobs or apprenticeships, and inspected against those criteria. There should also be much greater effort to make parents aware of the range and value of apprenticeship opportunities. Other noble Lords may have received a CIPD briefing, showing that only 9% of parents ranked an apprenticeship as the qualification that they would most like their child to attain.

When I met a group of engineering sector apprentices from the Industry Apprentice Council, set up by EAL, I was particularly struck by their willingness, indeed eagerness, to act as ambassadors themselves, based on the view that they are best placed to promote apprenticeships to others of their generation. Many have been articulate, enthusiastic, persuasive and impressive; surely we could harness those talents to encourage others to follow their lead. Perhaps the Government should look at ways of extending this concept of industry apprentice councils into other sectors.

My second issue relates to encouraging and enabling employers, particularly smaller firms, to offer more apprenticeships. I shall base this on a social enterprise called Building Lives set up by Steve Rawlings, the founder and chief executive of Lakehouse—a construction and contracting company based in Romford which now has an annual turnover of more than £300 million and some 1,300 staff. Building Lives offers 18-month NVQ level 2 multi-trade construction-sector apprenticeships, covering a range of skill areas including bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing, painting and decorating, plastering and tiling. It currently runs six Building Lives academies across London, each training about 50 apprentices a year aged 16 to 64, although one of them offers vocational training for much younger students, aged 14 to 16, in Southwark. The apprentices mostly come from deprived areas local to the academies. Many are NEETs or suffer other forms of disadvantage, including being young offenders.

Almost all those who complete their apprenticeships at Building Lives go on to be offered jobs with local contractors. Many of these are small firms, so Building Lives is set up as an apprenticeships training agency, or ATA, in order to manage on their behalf the bureaucracy involved in employing these young people. Already, after just a couple of years of operation, these six centres are producing some 250 qualified apprentices a year, who mostly go on into full-time jobs.

Building Lives would like to expand: Steve talks about reaching 20 academies within the next few years, producing about 1,000 qualified apprentices a year to go into the construction jobs market, with its expected growing skills needs. The academies are financially self-sustaining, for example through training fees, but they involve start-up costs—for example, to fit out suitable premises and to acquire necessary tools and equipment. Funding these initial costs in the current climate is proving extremely difficult yet it seems to me that this is a model for enhancing take-up of apprenticeships—not necessarily restricted to construction—that is proven and replicable, and could generate both new apprenticeship openings and the young people to fill them in significant numbers. What help can the Minister offer to enable initiatives of this kind to attract the start-up funds that they need?

My Lords, I am afraid that when I talk about apprenticeships, I bring with me rather a big moan. One of the major problems that we have had with the apprenticeship system is that the choice of wording, and the way in which the matter has been approached, has ended up, almost by definition, by excluding anybody who has even moderate dyslexia. We are currently dealing with this problem in the Children and Families Bill and may come to a satisfactory conclusion on it at Report. I will not rehearse those arguments now, because nobody has annoyed me enough to go through it all over again, but what it points out to me is that there is a problem with the idea that we have got in front of us now.

In fact, there are effectively two problems. The first is the perception that apprenticeships are wonderful and should be left alone and nobody can criticise them because they are to do with business. The other is the perception that education happens somewhere else and is nothing to do with training. We reached a point where I asked the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, whether we were going to prevent dyslexics from getting their apprenticeships because of the English test. He said, “No, we’ll sort that out”. Somewhere in the slip between cup and lip, however, and with the change of government, we developed a system where they were being stopped. Would that have happened in an educational establishment? No, it would not. Educational establishments know that you bring people on board and, with a long-term advantage, you can deal with it. If we go after training, we could have a system where people say, “Training and business? Business wants people who have literacy skills. If you don’t have good literacy skills, we cannot deal with you”. They do not know that in the modern world there are dozens of ways of assisting people to gain literacy skills through technology.

It was particularly worrying that although the same department provided both the disabled students allowance and the literacy package for universities—which is particularly for dyslexics but also for others with disabilities—the two parts were not talking to each other: the silos had closed. And just to make the absurdity slightly greater, guess what? Afterwards they could get help through Access to Work, which helps dyslexics access the written word. We got ourselves into a situation where a scheme was too precious to look outside itself. If that can happen once it can happen twice. We have to try to cross over that and ensure that the different parts talk to each other.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, talked about building up this important aspect which should be valued by the education system, this cross between training and education. The two worlds currently regard themselves as separate. I agree with my noble friend that schools should be better at directing people towards this area. In this case, however, the people from the academic world have had a better understanding of the support required for this group—which is 10% of the population—than people in the training world have had. Let us also face facts. If you put a dyslexic through university, what sorts of entrance-level jobs will be available for a university graduate? They will go into a white-collar office job. With the best will in the world, and with all the technological support in the world, they would probably be happier in a more practical environment. By not thinking laterally, and by defending your own little world, you are deliberately excluding people who would have been happier in that place. Unless the people undertaking these schemes start to talk to each other, they will continue to make these mistakes.

I do not have enough time in the remaining seconds to go further into this. However, we need to make sure that everyone who provides training supports people with disabilities throughout the process, not only up to the test but during practical demonstrations as well. Unless that happens, we shall continue to have these problems, even if we successfully deal with the problem of the functional skills test.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on securing this debate on this very important theme. The Richards review and the statement by the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise make clear that there are three areas that we need to look at and hold together.

The first is the big context about the importance of using education and training, of which apprenticeship is part, to make good citizens and a proper workforce for the 21st century. That is the theme of vocation: developing people to have a sustainable working life. The second area is the need for employers to be able to train and recruit the kind of people they need for their particular industry. The third area is the fact that there are a large number of young people who lack the opportunity to engage with the world of work. Those three themes frame this debate.

I will start with a comment on the bigger picture. I work in Derby, which is a great centre for industry, technology and innovation. One of the flagships is Rolls-Royce. The Rolls-Royce apprenticeship academy takes between 150 and 200 people a year. It is a setter of high standards. As part of their training, these apprentices are sent into the community to work in schools, with the homeless and in other places of need. They are developed in their vocation to be human beings and to handle themselves in the world, alongside the particular skills of engineering. It is very important to remember that in this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said, that was perhaps part of the energy that created her father—that wider hinterland of vocation to move beyond technical skills.

The second area is the needs of employers. With its long industrial heritage, the city of Derby has an exciting partnership between local businesses, Derby College and the University of Derby, to establish a university technical college that will open in September 2014. This is an engineering school for people between 14 and 18 years old, and a partnership between business and education. It may have the kind of potential to look at some of the learning issues that have been raised today, because of the ingredients of the partnership. Employers know what they are looking for, and are using professional educational and training institutions to help deliver them in a joined-up way.

The third strand is the fact that so many young people are denied access to the world of work. Because of their vocational element, and their ability to equip young people to be citizens and develop their skills in other ways, apprenticeships are a key area for them to have the opportunity to access. In my part of the world we have the JCB Academy; noble Lords probably know about JCB diggers. I work with people who are involved in that academy. They are helping young people to bridge the problem of being out of the world of work and getting into it.

The story of somebody I know illustrates this. This is a young person from a dysfunctional home who was a bad attendee when the opportunity to train through the JCB Academy was offered. Instead of telling this person that they were not meeting our standards and were off the course, the academy first worked with the mother; this was a single-parent family. Then it provided a return-to-school plan for the young person. It provided a mentor. When for other reasons the family was relocated out of the catchment area, JCB took the initiative and found temporary accommodation so that the young person could finish their training. This person is now an almost fully qualified apprentice engineer. That reaching out beyond immediate needs to get someone into the workforce and build a bridge, is crucial for so many young people who lack the opportunity.

I end by asking the Minister three questions. As the Government try to ensure good standards, could they include standards about the formation of citizens and a vocational element in apprenticeships? Besides including small businesses in the apprenticeship model, could the Government see how we could develop partnerships such as the one in the university technical college in Derby, between education and training specialists and elements of industry, that might help small businesses especially? How can we encourage the development of apprenticeships to build bridges to young people who need real encouragement and support to step into the world of work with its disciplines?

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for initiating this debate. I strongly support the Government’s reforms to the apprenticeship system. The employer-designed standards and assessment to be introduced are very welcome, and in particular the English and maths requirements and the minimum of 12 months for an apprenticeship. These provide a stronger structure that more employers and more potential apprentices will want to join. It is the job of everyone—not just the Government—to make a success of apprenticeships.

I shall raise three strategic problems in relation to skills. The first is the ageing workforce. Over the next three years, 200,000 people will be retiring from manufacturing and engineering. They will have to be replaced. Secondly, we have a skills gap. All over the UK, in manufacturing, engineering and the process industries, there are shortages at level 3 and above. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told or have read of the difficulty that so many employers have in recruiting. When we consider how much we spend on skills, it is quite astonishing that this problem is so widespread and so deep in so many sectors.

The third strategic problem is the lack of qualifications. Half of those who leave school without five good GCSEs have no job. Youth unemployment stands at 965,000: 21% of the under-24s. I have come to the conclusion that such a high level of youth unemployment is in part related to weaknesses in the provision of technical education, and to too few youth apprenticeships.

We still have a shortage of quality apprenticeships, and we need to raise the status of technical education to overcome that. We need opportunities throughout the country, including in rural areas where schools, further education and manufacturing businesses, in particular, need to be coherently linked through an apprenticeship system. For apprenticeships to grow, people have to offer apprenticeships, other people must take them up and places and sectors must want to promote them. We have to build on good practice. I draw attention to the city of Nottingham, which launched its apprenticeship hub in November 2012 and has in the past 12 months seen a one-third increase in the number of apprenticeships.

Secondly, there is good practice when newspapers show leadership in supporting the growth of apprenticeships. I draw particular attention to the Journal in Newcastle upon Tyne, and congratulate it on its leadership in driving up the number of apprenticeships in the north-east of England through its Proud to Back Apprentices campaign, which I am delighted to support. It is everybody’s responsibility, and lots more companies are needed to engage.

Opportunities for girls and women are another aspect of this. I commend Hilary French, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, who in a speech last week to its annual conference on Tyneside said that higher-level apprenticeships were one way in which young women could take up a career using science, maths or technology. There is a serious shortage of women taking up careers who have studied these subjects. She said:

“I believe, and hope, that the link between schools and employers will strengthen over the coming years and that there will be an increasing focus on developing employment skills. I’d like to challenge independent schools heads to embrace these alternative avenues. Parents too. There is huge potential in employer training courses and the new types of apprenticeships which are emerging. We must not be sniffy about them”.

I concur absolutely with that.

Finally, I am very glad to see that the National Apprenticeship Service has had its role extended to include supporting employer investment in traineeships, which will be particularly helpful in addressing the imbalance in the age of a company’s workforce. I hope that the Government’s changes and the creation of the new trailblazers, which will combine employers and professional bodies in new industries such as aerospace, automotive, digital, electrotechnical, energy and life sciences, in particular, will drive ahead to create many more apprenticeship opportunities for our young people.

I shall speak briefly in the gap. I support my noble friend Lady Wilcox and must declare an interest as patron of the Heritage Crafts Association and chairman of William Morris Craft Fellowship. I would have put myself down to speak in this debate, but I was attending a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate 60 years of the National Churches Trust giving money to help restore and maintain our great historic churches in this country. I did not want to commit to speak and then not be here.

As I have the opportunity, I will say to the Minister, in particular, that it is desperately important that we remember the crucial significance of craft apprenticeships. I say that in the light of the very perceptive comments of my noble friend Lord Addington. Many young people who have dyslexia can become superb craftsmen and craftswomen. The Heritage Crafts Association and the William Morris Craft Fellowship have tried to spread the gospel of true craftsmanship. It is very important that employers, many of whom in the Heritage Crafts Association are one-man or one-woman businesses, have help to take on apprentices.

I make a plea to the Minister to allow me to bring to meet him a representative from both those associations, so that we can discuss how best the Government can help encourage, through the education system and elsewhere, young men and women to embrace a career in the crafts. Not one of the churches whose rescue we were rejoicing in this morning could have been rescued had it not been for the skill of craftsmen and craftswomen. We need to ensure that there is a steady and continuing supply. It is a wonderful vocation. It is enormously fulfilling—but, sadly, it is too often denigrated. May this brief debate help ensure a resurrection of real interest in and encouragement of heritage crafts.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. Normally, when we have exchanged views on this she has been at the Dispatch Box on one side or the other. She has given us a great opportunity to discuss, albeit briefly, the vital issue of young people and apprenticeships.

I cannot match the academic achievements of many of the noble Lords in the Chamber, but I am part of a select group of noble Lords who are former apprentices; that is my claim to fame. A number of people have talked about the status of apprenticeships. Not only among young people but among teachers and parents it is not viewed in the same way as academic progression. I was reminded forcefully of this on the Lords outreach programme at a local high school. I scanned through all the documentation and found not a single reference to apprenticeships. I asked the group of 30 pupils I was talking to and, no, apprenticeships were not registering with them at all. We have got a lot more to do in that area.

It is not a question of either/or for apprenticeships and academic training. Often the path of an apprenticeship leads you through to getting a degree. As I have often had the opportunity to remind young people, it has the added bonus that you can earn while you learn, with a guaranteed job at the end of it. It has much to recommend it. I say to the Minister that he needs to ensure that all schools should have links to the business community and the world of work.

We often hear talk about soft skills. I do not know why we call them soft skills; they are essential skills, which have already been referred to. It is not just about literacy, numeracy and teamwork. IT skills are also an essential part of any young person’s CV today.

We need to do a lot better with career guidance. There has been a reference today to university technical colleges, which are a good and welcome development. We need young apprentices to return to the schools that they previously attended. Role models are absolutely essential. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Also, we somehow need to get through to young girls that there are careers apart from hairdressing or nursing—not that I wish to denigrate either of those because they are in themselves valuable jobs—and to open up their horizons to the worlds of science, engineering and craft skills as well. There are a lot of opportunities there. I certainly concur with the points of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on dyslexia and disabilities. We need to work harder in ensuring that apprenticeships are open to people with those challenges.

The real problem is actually that the demand, as a number of noble Lords have said, vastly exceeds the supply. I do not wish to knock the Government’s attempt, but they should stop just saying, “We have done 500,000”, when you know that when you examine those figures they will not stand up to scrutiny. The challenge for us, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, is that we have still got only 4% to 8% of companies employing apprentices. It is still only a third of companies in the FTSE 100. You can knock Ed Miliband and his view about compulsion when hiring but it might be a salutary reminder to say that, if only employers would attach as much importance to people within this country when they were looking for skills on hiring, it would not do them any harm. The Government should treat this as a top priority. Nearly 1 million 16 to 24 year-olds are unemployed. Some of them are in education, but they are still looking for a job.

My noble friend Lord Haskel told about problems with the actual apprenticeships. In the 16 to 19 year group according to the recent report by the Work Foundation, which I commend to the Minister, only 6% of 16 to 18 year-olds were in an apprenticeship. Of those who started apprenticeships in 2011, 71% were existing employees. A recent BIS survey found that 20% received neither on nor off-the-job training, which is a worrying statistic.

What needs to be done? The Government must lead by example. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that in my brief ministerial career I managed to ensure that once a month every department came around and told me what it had achieved or failed to achieve. Why on earth are we not saying to companies which get public procurement contracts that they must declare their number of apprenticeships? We did it. We got about 300-plus on the Olympics, and Crossrail is heading towards 400.

Briefly, because I am conscious of the time, you also need to expand the use of group training associations. A recent report on them said that GTAs should be central to the Government’s plan for economic growth. I would like to hear from the Minister what they are doing about that. Similarly, the Apprentice Training Association mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, represents another good opportunity. I looked in vain on the local enterprise partnerships’ websites for any reference to apprenticeships. Again, they ought to be at the top of their lists, working with local authorities.

The Government have done some useful work, but not enough in my opinion. We should see the real danger: that this generation of young, unemployed people could become a lost generation. We owe them a much better deal than that, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to set out what the Government are doing to encourage young people to take an apprenticeship. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Wilcox for tabling this debate and to noble Lords who have raised some important points. This also gives me particular pleasure because in recent times my noble friend Lady Wilcox served as a BIS Minister in my role.

Apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s drive to give people of all ages the skills that employers need to compete in the expanding, competitive global market. As several noble Lords have pointed out, strong returns arise from apprenticeships. As my noble friend Lady Wilcox has said, that is why we have seen a record 1.5 million people start an apprenticeship since 2010.

The fundamental underlying principle of an apprenticeship is that it is a paid job that incorporates on and off-the-job training that leads to nationally recognised qualifications. After investing heavily in an apprentice, it makes business sense for employers to keep employing individuals once their apprenticeship ends. We need to do more to spread the word that apprenticeships are good for the economy, good for business and good for individuals. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, raised the issue of the Richard review and claimed that the implementation plan had given permission to label any training an apprenticeship. With his other comments, I take issue with him and with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Young, made about the numbers. This is not just a numbers game. Our aim in reforming apprenticeships is to make the programme the new international benchmark for excellence. This is about quality, not number-counting, and we are determined to raise all apprenticeships to the standards of the best so that the programme is rigorous, responsive and meets the changing needs of our economy in the decades to come.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking for his groundbreaking, unstinting and exciting work on university technical colleges, and in particular his work on addressing the shortages in STEM. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised an interesting point and gave an interesting example about the Rolls-Royce training programme, which we know is one of the very best in the country. He also raised a point about the university technical colleges and the need—

My Lords, I do not like to interrupt, but if we are to pay tribute, as we should, to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, we should also be sure to pay tribute to Lord Dearing. It was a joint initiative of both noble Lords, and he made such a great contribution that I felt it was appropriate to remind the House of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, is absolutely right, and I certainly pay tribute to Lord Dearing for the work he did in this area. My overall point is that we need to combine practical training and vocational training, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, and we very much focus on that, mixed, of course, with the provision of academic study. I should also make the point that there is a shortage of science and engineering skills in this country. Again, the right reverend Prelate alluded to this, and it is very much on our radar that we should look at this in respect of apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships must be high quality, rigorous and focused on what employers need. The reforms we are making will put employers in the driving seat of developing apprenticeships that are more rigorous, more responsive and deliver the right skills. Additional rigour will come from a demand for higher standards that will stretch apprentices by setting higher expectations for achievement in English and maths, requiring more assessment at the end of an apprenticeship, and recognising an apprentice’s achievement through a grading system that ensures excellence that is clearly seen and widely understood. These changes build on those already introduced to raise quality, such as the minimum 12 months duration.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox raised a concern about over-bureaucracy. More responsiveness will be possible from the sweeping away of lengthy, convoluted, unnecessarily complex frameworks to bring in new, short, clear standards that are written by employers, not bureaucrats. Apprenticeships will then be able to focus on the skills and expertise that employers want and need. Reviewing the standards every three years will ensure that they remain relevant. The Government are also taking specific steps to support access to apprenticeships for young people as part of their work to deal with youth unemployment. We want apprenticeships to be held in the same high regard as university degrees. My noble friend Lord Stoneham and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, rightly alluded to this very important point. Young people must be able to choose the right route to the skills and knowledge they need for their career. Careers advice and guidance at the right time have never been so important. It is crucial that schools, colleges and universities play their part alongside the National Careers Service in inspiring and helping young people to make those choices. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, spoke about the importance of schools taking responsibility for promoting apprenticeships. If time permits, I should like to say more about the careers advice questions that were asked during the debate.

Apprenticeships must also be open to all. Not all young people leave school ready for the demands of an apprenticeship. I paid tribute earlier to the work done by my noble friend Lord Baker and Lord Dearing on university technical colleges. We have also introduced traineeships which enable 16 to 23 year-olds to develop the skills, experience and confidence they need to compete for an apprenticeship. Higher apprenticeships provide opportunities for able young people to undertake apprenticeship training at a level equivalent to a degree. It is precisely because apprenticeships must be open to all that the Government cannot create an “entitlement”, or a guarantee, that an apprenticeship will be available for every young person who would like one. Recruitment decisions must rest with employers for apprenticeships as much as for other jobs. Through the Education Act 2011, we have prioritised apprenticeship funding for vulnerable young people—those aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 to 24 who have a learning difficulty or disability, or who have been in local authority care when they have found a place. This guarantee has priority over funding for other places in line with our focus on supporting vulnerable groups in all areas.

My noble friend Lord Addington, supported by my noble friend Lord Cormack, referred to vulnerable groups—my noble friend Lord Addington focused particularly on those with dyslexia—and exclusion in relation to apprenticeships. I reassure them by saying that all apprenticeships stretch and prepare individuals for sustained employment. Dyslexia should not present an insuperable barrier to those candidates who demonstrate competence and commitment in their chosen field. Access to Work and Additional Learning Support are two possible sources of funding to help provide equipment or other assistance for apprentices with dyslexia. The Government certainly recognise that there is more to be done to support apprentices with learning difficulties or disabilities and we aim to improve the operation and delivery of apprenticeships without jeopardising the standards that make them so valuable to apprentices and employers. I would be delighted to meet my noble friend Lord Cormack and the organisations that he mentioned, should that still be appropriate.

We fully fund apprenticeship training for 16 to 18 year-olds. This reflects the fact that they are likely to need more supervision and support initially and take longer to become fully productive in the workplace. For all young people, the National Apprenticeship Service—NAS for short—works with organisations that provide careers advice to make sure the benefits and demands of an apprenticeship, including what employers look for when recruiting, are understood and can be fully explained to the young people with whom the organisations work. NAS also provides an online apprenticeship vacancies job site. Between 12,000 and 20,000 vacancies are on the site at any time and can be accessed in a number of ways convenient to young people, including through Facebook, Twitter and apps for iPhones and Android phones.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox made a very valid point about the esteem of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are something to aspire to and apprentices should be awarded recognition for their work just as graduates are. As I have said, our goal is to see an apprenticeship place valued equally to one at university. Celebrating success is so important to this. National Apprenticeship Week 2014, on 3 to 7 March, is an excellent opportunity to do just that. I know that all noble Lords will lend cross-party support when the time comes.

Apprenticeships are also promoted at large-scale events, including the Skills Show in Birmingham this month. More than 80,000 people attended that and large numbers of young people took up the offer to “have a go” at more than 40 different skills offered at different stands. The show is now going nationwide with 220 local events planned between now and December 2014. Organisers expect that more than 200,000 young people will attend the events. This shows that there is keen interest in skills and apprenticeships.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised the issue of the careers service, and asked particularly how the new careers service is performing. They raised the issue of careers advice at schools and the important point as to whether options other than university are provided and discussed. As part of the new agenda, the National Careers Service will work with schools, colleges and employers to bring greater cohesiveness to careers guidance. We want these new arrangements to be in place from October 2014 when the new National Careers Service contracts will start.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, raised the issue of apprentices in the public sector and the need for more transparent data on this. We do not currently measure a breakdown of apprenticeships in the public and private sectors. However, the fast-track Civil Service apprenticeships scheme was launched in October and is taking 100 18 to 21 year-olds through a two-year apprenticeship. At the end of the scheme they will, if successful, have earned a higher level qualification at level 4. We do intend to expand the scheme for another cohort, which we hope will be launched in early 2014. In addition, Civil Service Learning is currently working with its prime contractor to put in place a single provider or a consortium to offer to partners an easier way of sourcing apprenticeship services.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lady Wilcox raised the issue of learning to be good citizens as well as gaining skills for work. National Citizen Service is a life-changing experience open to all 16 and 17 year-olds across England. It is a unique three-week full-time programme of fun and discovery that benefits both young people and society. Participants build skills for work and life while taking on new challenges and adventures and learning new skills and making new friends. Taking place outside school and term time, the part-residential programme is made up of four sections that focus on personal and social development, including leadership, teamwork and communication. This works alongside the apprenticeship reforms, so I am pleased to mention it.

My noble friend Lord Shipley raised the important point about the need for more apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing, a point to which I alluded earlier. The new higher apprenticeships are available or are in development in sectors including construction, advanced engineering, engineering environmental technologies, energy and utilities including water and waste, and space engineering. It is important to articulate to young people the career opportunities in STEM-based occupations via STEM apprenticeships.

Time has pretty well run out.

Before the Minister sits down, if time does not allow a response now, I should welcome a written reply on the question of public procurement contracts and apprenticeships and on the question of encouraging group training associations and ATAs.

Before the Minister sits down, will the Government take steps to rationalise the 48 schemes identified by the CBI from three government departments all of which can apparently be referred to as apprenticeships?

In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, I shall be happy to write to him. In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Young, on public procurement, the Government support the appropriate use of apprenticeships in procurement as they can contribute to encouraging growth in the UK economy. I shall look at his question in Hansard to see whether we can produce a fuller answer to it.

In conclusion, I urge noble Lords to support apprenticeships, as I know they all will, and to support the reforms that the Government are making to them.