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Volume 750: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the current number of people starting apprenticeships each year; how that compares with 2009–10; and what measures are being taken to improve the quality and number of apprenticeship schemes.

My Lords, in 2012-13, there were more than 510,200 apprenticeship starts, which is up by 82.4% on 2009-10. Also, 1.5 million new apprenticeships have been created since the Government came to power. Our reforms will ensure that apprenticeships are even more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers. Putting employers in the driving seat will create apprenticeships that are able to meet employers’ needs.

My Lords, historically, and to our cost, Britain has not been good on technical education. Therefore, the information that my noble friend has just given on the number of apprenticeships represents a real success story and a real breakthrough. It is also good that we are involving employers in the design of schemes. Will my noble friend ensure that small and medium sized companies get a good look in as well as bigger corporations as I know from personal experience that they have a lot to offer in this area?

I agree with my noble friend. Apprenticeship is a real success story of our country and we should all encourage it as best we can. We have announced eight trailblazer projects, which will be the first to develop new standards and approaches to assessment for apprenticeships. These began work in autumn 2013. My noble friend raised the important issue of small businesses. Almost 50% of our apprenticeships are in small businesses but there is only a 13% take-up. Therefore I am delighted that the apprenticeship grant, which we have also launched, will allow new employers with fewer than 1,000 employees to take on new apprentices aged between 16 and 24, which the Government will be supporting fully.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that recent research indicates that among 14 to 16 year-old youngsters at school only one in five knows of the existence of apprenticeships? He will, however, be aware of the recent Ofsted report which criticises the Government for their failure to provide proper career guidance. What do the Government intend to do in response to the Ofsted criticism?

It is important to ensure that in our schools and universities, through the careers advice services, students are made aware of all opportunities at all levels. We are working closely with the Department for Education to ensure that that happens. Small businesses are also working closely at a local level and the Government strongly encourage that partnership working.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that existing apprentices are one of the best resources for promoting awareness and take-up of apprenticeships? What steps can he take to encourage initiatives to take advantage of this potential, such as the Industry Apprentice Council set up by EAL to give a mouthpiece and forum for apprentices in the engineering sector?

The noble Lord has raised an important point. In any field, what better role model can there be than a mentor who has actually been through it themselves? Mentors are engaged through initiatives from the National Apprenticeship Service, while the trailblazer projects work at the local level through local partnerships up and down the country, including in Yorkshire, the north-east, London and the south-east. We will be encouraging mentoring as a key part of those initiatives.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many schools have a vested financial interest in keeping young people at school often to follow courses that do not fulfil their needs. How can those young people receive independent and impartial advice which might include the option of an apprenticeship?

It is important that schools look at their focus in terms of career guidance and we are encouraging that through the Department for Education. Changes have also been made to higher apprenticeships which now provide a clear work-based progression pathway into higher education and professional careers. We want to ensure that apprenticeships are held in the same high regard as degrees and we believe that schools are going to be key in ensuring the promotion of apprenticeships.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the good work they are doing on apprenticeships. Will they consider the fact that many young men and women over the age of 21, who perhaps have lost out because of unemployment, would also appreciate what is known as an adult apprenticeship?

The Government are fully aware of that fact and I take it on board. Of course we want to encourage apprenticeships across the board and age should be no barrier.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s focus on the value of apprenticeships, building on the work of the previous Government. Does the Minister agree that, especially in the 16 to 18 group, demand vastly exceeds supply? To keep on quoting the figure of 510,000 when the large majority of those are adult apprenticeships does not address that particular problem. We have almost 1 million NEETs and that is the area the Government need to focus on. We still have only a small number of employers taking up apprenticeships. The figure is somewhere between 4% and 18%, and only a third of the FTSE 100. What additional action are the Government taking to resolve a problem that could leave us with a lost generation of young people?

On the contrary, I would say to the noble Lord that we are tackling the problem head on. We talked earlier about mentoring. The noble Lord is very good role model for apprenticeships and how much one can achieve. I pay tribute to his personal example. On what the Government are doing right now, on 28 October we published our plans for reform in The Future of Apprenticeships in England and those reforms will do exactly what is required by increasing the quality of apprenticeships. This is not a numbers game. It is about setting higher expectations with a focus on English and maths. Equally, we are putting employers in the driving seat, making sure that rigorous training is delivered and thus ensuring economic growth. Finally, we are simplifying apprenticeships by replacing long and complex frameworks with a simpler procedure to increase take-up, particularly by small businesses.

My Lords, when dealing with apprentices as an employer a few years ago the biggest problem that we faced was bureaucracy. There were bureaucratic requirements for extensive record-keeping that we at Tesco could just about manage, but for smaller companies it is obviously a big issue. Is the system now less bureaucratic? Will the Minister comment on that very important point?

My noble friend has raised an important point which the Government acknowledge and the consultation proved that apprenticeships needed to be simplified. I go back to my last point by saying that we have done that by replacing long and complex frameworks with one-page standards written for employers to encourage take-up in the SME sector. Equally, we are providing additional grants in the small business sector for organisations with fewer than 1,000 employees. My noble friend talked about the experience at Tesco. I think that large employers have a key role to play in this and Tesco is one example among others of companies that are doing very well. Rolls-Royce in Derby provides 100 to 200 apprenticeships a year and that goes across the board. Large employers and the SME sector both need to be encouraged. Apprenticeship is a success story and we should all get behind it.