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Technical Education and Apprenticeships

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to raise the prestige of technical education and apprenticeships and to ensure that they are viewed positively by young people, potential employers and the wider public.

My Lords, technical education reforms based on the panel recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, will provide a high-quality technical track centred around 15 routes preparing individuals for skilled employment. We are raising the reputation of apprenticeships, creating a world-class system, offering high-quality apprenticeships for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Investment in careers over this Parliament totalling £90 million will ensure that every young person has access to advice to fulfil their potential.

My Lords, I know the Government are committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible to all people from all backgrounds. Awareness of those opportunities is key. Can my noble friend the Minister advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that we engage at an early stage with schools so that teachers and pupils are aware of the great opportunities apprenticeships can offer, either alongside academia or as an alternative route, making it clear that apprenticeships can be an equally distinguished route into a successful and fulfilling career?

My Lords, we legislated through the Education Act 2011 to require schools to secure impartial and independent careers guidance, including on apprenticeships for 12 to 18 year-olds. It is important for young people to have a range of options presented to them and be well informed on what those options are. We continue to raise the profile and esteem of apprenticeships with young people by featuring successful apprentices in the Get In Go Far campaign, so that young people see apprenticeships as a high-quality and prestigious path to a successful career, just as much as they might in heading in another direction, such as to university.

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises some very interesting points, which have been around for a long time. Since the Labour Government raised the profile of apprenticeships, things have moved on. One thing that employers find is that parents are often the issue—they sometimes feel that being an apprentice is not as good as going to university. I just wonder how we can help them change their mind and understand the importance of an apprenticeship to their children’s future.

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Parents have an important role, particularly with young people—we know that teenagers are not always the most communicative of individuals. Early on, parents have a role to inspire. That is why the Get In Go Far campaign has a role for parents as well. It is accompanied by advertisements on TV and it is clear that parents as well as their children are looking at this. Since August 2016, the campaign has resulted in more than 125,000 people starting an application for an apprenticeship.

My Lords, we are about to embark on what may be a lengthy discussion of the Higher Education and Research Bill. Will the Government make it clear that they treat colleges of further education as of equal importance to the higher education that we will be discussing?

That is certainly right. We know, for example, that the number of learners in further education studying for qualifications at level 4 and above has gone down by 3,800. This was partly because there was, perhaps, a little too much emphasis on the higher education side. A balancing out is needed and our advertisements, and our work with parents, schools and the university technical colleges—which I suspect my noble friend Lord Baker is about to ask me about—are playing a part.

I thank my noble friend for the introduction. Is the Minister aware that university technical colleges now send 44% of their students to technical universities—more than the national average—and that they produce 30% of apprenticeships, which is higher than the national average of 8%? If we are to close the skills gap, we must produce more technical home-grown talent. The only way to do that is to expand university technical colleges.

My noble friend is absolutely right and I pay tribute to him, and indeed to Dearing, for the part they played in setting up the UTC programme. I remember standing at this very Dispatch Box about three years ago and speaking about just seven UTCs; there are now 48. We continue to look at the performance of the UTC model and learn lessons from those that are open to ensure that they offer a great education for young people who want to follow a technical path and that, crucially, they produce the necessary skills to help us grow our talent.

What consideration have the Government given to including technical and vocational achievement in school league tables and to encouraging schools to celebrate their apprenticeship leavers with the same pride that they show in their university entrants?

That is a good point. It is very much up to schools to make those decisions but, again, as part of our campaign—our PR—we are encouraging schools in what they do to give advice on careers in general. This is very much part of it.

My Lords, employers spend some £3 billion each year on training but only about 15% of that works its way through to further education colleges. Now the Government are poised to make another £350 million of cuts to the adult skills budget, which will impact on part-time and adult learners at FE colleges. If the Government really are committed—as I believe they are—to widening access to and participation in technical and vocational education, what action does the Minister intend to take to promote the importance of the further education college sector and encourage more employers to use it?

One of the initiatives—there are several—is that we will be setting up, by April 2017, an institute for apprenticeships. The aim will be to have an employer-led approach to ensure that there are more apprenticeships. I think the House will know that we aim to set up 3 million over this Parliament. Also, through the Technical and Further Education Bill, we are extending the remit of the apprenticeship institute to cover college-based, technical education from April 2018.

My Lords, in the course of my work as chairman of the Chartered Institution for Further Education, I have become aware that there are large numbers of would-be mature students, all well-motivated, who would like to start technical courses. What options will the Government make available so that people of all ages can start such a course?

We had quite a discussion yesterday on the Higher Education and Research Bill about the importance of mature students and part-time students coming back on to the training ladder. This is one of the many initiatives we have to help not just young people.

Will the Minister advise the House of the Government’s latest thinking on introducing apprenticeships for fully qualified nurses? What discussions have the Government had with universities that currently provide degree qualifications for all qualified nurses?

I may need to write to the noble Lord. The only answer I can give now with regard to the nursing profession is that health and science is an important part of the 15 new technical routes. There are five different routes one can go down. This was part of the Sainsbury review.