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Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to work with businesses to ensure that the completion rate of apprenticeships improves, particularly for those under 25.

Ensuring that apprentices are fully competent in a job, have transferable skills and progress their career will all help encourage people to complete their apprenticeships. We are also incentivising completions by ensuring that providers only receive a completion payment when an apprenticeship has been achieved. Our far-reaching reforms will further improve the quality of apprenticeships and ensure delivery of the high-quality relevant training expected by both employers and apprentices.

I thank the Minister for that response. I agree with much of what she has said. The Government’s own Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, however, in its submission to the recent apprenticeships inquiry, concluded that under 25s are getting a raw deal, especially young women. It cites a lack of access to the best apprenticeship opportunities, ghettoization into low-pay occupations and a rampant sexism which sees 97% of all apprenticeships in building and 86% in engineering going to men. Will the Government follow the recommendation of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and establish an annual apprenticeship opportunity tracker in order that we can be assured that the quality, quantity and, more importantly, social mobility outcomes of apprenticeships succeed—and if not, why not?

We certainly want to increase access to high-quality apprenticeships for all young people. That is why, in future, data about progression into apprenticeships will be included in school performance tables so that we can see where young people are going and what their career paths will be. I can assure the noble Lord that the recent apprenticeship evaluation learner survey found that nine out of 10 of all recent completers were either in full-time or part-time employment, and 77% of those were still employed by the same employer with whom they completed their apprenticeships. So we know that once young people go into these roles, they end up getting worthwhile and good jobs.

Given that apprenticeships play such an important role in the life chances outcomes of care leavers, could the Minister outline the department’s plans for ensuring greater take-up among care leavers?

I am delighted to say that from 2016-17, employers taking on care leavers aged between 19 and 24 as apprentices will be entitled to full funding.

My Lords, in carrying out its recent report, the Social Mobility Committee was told that a six-week course in flower arranging and vegetable wrapping, or something, was to be described as an apprenticeship. Would an apprenticeship of that nature be in the Government’s statistics on apprenticeships?

The noble Lord will know that quality apprenticeships are at the heart of what we are trying to do. We are establishing an independent, employer-led institute for apprenticeships to ensure quality and that businesses are involved in the standards. Our definition of an apprenticeship is that it must be a job in a skilled occupation; it should have substantial and sustained training lasting a minimum of 12 months; it should lead to full competency in an occupation; and it must develop transferable skills. That is our definition of an apprenticeship, and that is what will be in the statistics.

My Lords, given the concerns that have been expressed about these results, does the Minister now accept that 3 million is an arbitrary figure for the number of apprentices we should have in this country? Does she further agree that we would be better off with a comprehensive plan for all kinds of skills and qualifications instead of straitjacketing learners and employers with a payroll tax that fits some but not all of our skills needs? Surely, employers would be happier to pay for their own diverse training needs than to satisfy a Government mantra of 3 million apprentices and one size fits all.

I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Baroness. It is absolutely right that the Government should be ambitious for young people and that we should offer them good quality university routes, apprenticeships and technical routes. That is why we have this ambitious target and why we are also looking to reform technical education, on which the Lord Sainsbury review, which will be published shortly, will help to lead the way. Moreover, since 2010 some 2.7 million apprenticeships have been started, so I believe that it is a worthwhile target. We would be letting our young people down if we did not offer them a whole range of opportunities to get the good jobs they deserve.

My Lords, to date there have been only some 1,400 starts on the trailblazer apprenticeships under the new standards framework. What plans are there to retain the existing apprenticeship frameworks, and how do the Government propose to increase uptake of the new standards as the existing frameworks are closed?

The noble Lord is right, in that we are moving towards a new framework. We want to improve quality, which is why we are giving employers the opportunity to design apprenticeships that are more demanding and responsive to the needs of business, looking to have more rigorous testing and grading at the end of an apprenticeship, and giving employers control of funding so that they can become more demanding customers. That way, both employers and young people involved in apprenticeships get the quality training that we all want to see.

My Lords, I have rather lost track of the number of times the Minister has talked about ambition. Of course we support the ambition to have 3 million apprenticeships and we wish her well with that. However, is not the problem that currently, 96% of apprenticeships are at levels 2 and 3? These are obviously important to the service sector and associated sectors, but as she has said, we have to provide routes through to degree level. Where is that coming from?

The noble Lord will be aware that we have introduced higher and degree level apprenticeships, and I am sure he will be delighted to know that in fact, higher apprenticeships are the fastest growing element of the apprenticeship programme. Through our national colleges we will be delivering specialist technical skills training at levels 4 and 6, and by 2020 we expect them to be delivering training to around 21,000 learners. We are focusing on higher and degree level apprenticeships, and it is a fast-growing area.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while the availability and quality of apprenticeships is one thing, their potential for young people is quite another? What careers advice is being given to young people from the age of 14—because age is key in this—in order to enthuse and inform them about apprenticeships as an alternative to university?

I thank my noble friend for the question. As she will no doubt be aware, we have already strengthened the statutory guidance to ensure that independent careers advice is presented in an impartial manner and a whole range of options covering training and education is included. We intend to bring forward legislation to require schools to allow other education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about their offer on their premises, so that young people get high quality information and careers advice about the range of options they have, including apprenticeships.