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Vocational Training: Young People

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 27 February 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to equip young people with the skills necessary to enter the job market.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, declare an interest as chief executive of Tomorrow’s People.

My Lords, perhaps unlike the rest of your Lordships’ House, I had sight of this Question and there is a continuum here. We are reforming vocational education to ensure that young people can get the skills which employers value. We are implementing reforms to qualifications for 14 to 19 year-olds. We have introduced study programmes for 16 to 19 year-olds and traineeships for 16 to 23 year-olds, including work experience and the basic skills in English and maths which employers tell us young people need. These measures, alongside the youth contract, are enabling more young people to move into apprenticeships or indeed employment.

I thank the Minister for that response and I endorse the fact that these interventions are making a real difference to the lives of our young people. However, while interventions on their own are all good, in most cases it is the magic of the personal support that young people get which glues these things together and makes the real difference. How will the Government make sure that this holistic and seamless approach continues and grows to make the outcomes even more effective than they are?

First, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s personal experience in this field. She is an example of how people can work at a local level to ensure that young people are given the opportunities that they require and deserve. Our priority is to ensure that students are offered high-quality and meaningful work experience as part of their post-16 education, which is both stretching and related to their career paths and realistically based on their prior attainment at age 16. All students aged 16 to 19, whether they are doing academic or vocational studies or a mix of both, are now expected to follow a study programme tailored to their prior attainment by the age of 16 and in line with their future career aspirations.

My Lords, as the growth in apprenticeship numbers is largely accounted for in the age range above 25 can the Government use the procurement process, on which many billions of pounds have been spent, to make it a condition of government contracts that apprentices are hired? Can the Government also counter the alarming trend in the number of apprentices not being paid the legal minimum wage?

Apprenticeships are a central part of what this Government seek to do to address some of the challenges that this country faces. We should all acknowledge that 985,000 apprenticeships have been created since the general election. As these apprenticeships evolve, we are working with employers across the country to ensure that they are effective for, and indeed reflective of, the needs of the people who are fulfilling them. The points the noble Lord makes will be taken on board as the way apprenticeships are presented evolves.

My Lords, there are four times as many 18 to 24 year-olds looking for work at the moment as there are in the 16 to 17 age group. Yet the Government’s policy on apprenticeships for 19 to 24 year-olds is to ask employers to pay half the costs of the learning framework. Many businesses, especially SMEs, will pause before taking on an apprentice because of this. Does the Minister agree that if this requirement were to be removed, it would hugely encourage many more young people to get into apprenticeships as well as giving them much more of a chance to succeed?

The right reverend Prelate makes an important point, but I am sure many noble Lords are aware that the Government do support local businesses. Indeed, they have made additional funding available to small businesses that are looking to take on both trainees and apprentices.

On the age group that the right reverend Prelate mentioned, particularly 19 to 24 year-olds, in October 2013 the Government announced funding of an additional £20 million to support the expansion of traineeships, which are helping even more young people to get the skills and experience they need to get into full-time work.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the number of apprentices aged 16 to 18 has been falling, rather than rising, over the past few years? Yet we still have a million people of that age who are NEETs. In addition, the numbers entering into apprenticeships in both construction and engineering, where we have the greatest skills shortages, have been falling. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to encourage young people to go into those careers?

I have already mentioned traineeships, but if we look at the figures announced today on NEETs—those young people not in education, employment or training—they reveal that for the 16 to 18 age group this stands at 7.6%, the lowest since Government records began in this area in 2000. If we look at the wider group, the current percentage is 14.2%, which is the lowest since 2008.

My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister today made further announcements on how to encourage young people, how to ensure that career services work well across the country and how schools are an essential part of ensuring that career opportunities are made available. This whole package of reforms is providing the necessary steps for tackling the issue of youth unemployment, but more importantly providing young people with the opportunities they need to get into the employment sector.

The number of apprentices who did not receive the legal minimum wage has increased by 45%. This is against the law. What are the Government doing about it?

The Government are adhering to the minimum wage. That has been made clear several times at the ballot box. The minimum wage is there for employers to follow and the Government are supporting it across the country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the award-winning Building Lives Training Academy, set up by the founder of Lakehouse plc to provide construction sector apprenticeships for young people, leading to jobs in the sector, and what can the Government do to help such initiatives gain access to the start-up funding they need, which seems to be the greatest obstacle to their expansion?

Perhaps I may come back to the noble Lord on the first part of his question as I missed it. As I have already said, we believe it is important that the careers guidance service is working effectively, whether that is in academies or other schools within the sector. This morning my right honourable friend announced further initiatives in direct response to the Ofsted reports in this area, which demonstrated a need for schools to play a greater part in providing careers advice.