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Apprenticeships: Rural Economy

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 14 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in increasing the number of apprenticeships within the rural economy.

We have supported 2.9 million apprenticeship starts across the country since 2009-10, including a 23% increase in the agriculture, horticulture and animal care sector. Defra and BIS are working together to support trailblazer employers in developing new apprenticeship standards for primarily rural occupations, such as crop technicians and advanced dairy technicians. We are committed to tripling the number of apprentices in food, farming and agricultural technology by 2020.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response and congratulate the Government on the number of young apprentices we have managed to create. But when trying to triple the number in food and farming, does she accept that social mobility is the key to success? Have the Government any plans to encourage businesses, many of which are small or micro, and local communities to help so that people can take up those much-needed apprenticeships?

We are working very closely with the industry. One in eight people works in the food and farming sector and they will make a major contribution to achieving our commitment of 3 million apprenticeship starts. For instance, with the hospitality and tourism sector we are looking at the feasibility of offering 12-month apprenticeships over a period of 16 to 18 months with a gap in employment so that the apprenticeship will work in heavily seasonal businesses. So we are working with the industry to try to make sure that we are delivering both high-quality apprenticeships and ones that make sense for sectors.

My Lords, is it fair to include in national statistics for apprenticeship training six-month training schemes, which effectively dilute the whole idea behind apprenticeship training? How many of these diluted six-monthers were there?

Our definition of a quality apprenticeship is underpinned by four principles: it must be a job in a skilled occupation; it should have substantial and sustained training lasting a minimum of 12 months and including off-the-job training; it must lead to competency in an occupation; and it must develop transferable skills.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in many rural areas, the reason it is quite difficult to provide opportunities for apprentices is that it is too difficult for them to reach the place where they are going to work? Have the Government considered giving special help for travel in rural communities so that more apprentices can be successfully employed?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point about difficulties with travel. We are seeing examples in local areas of action on this. For instance, in rural Norfolk and Suffolk, the local job centres have used funding from the flexible support fund to help young people with the costs of leasing a moped, with the required safety equipment, clothing and training. So there are initiatives that other parts of the country can learn from in order to make sure that young people can access the apprenticeships that they want.

My Lords, we know from ONS figures published last week that 11.4% of all children in the UK are in long-term workless households, and that a significant proportion of those children are between the ages of 11 and 15. This is an impressionable time in a young person’s education. Can my noble friend say what is being done to raise awareness of apprenticeships in this specific group as a real alternative to university and, importantly, as a route out of the culture of benefit dependency?

My noble friend will be aware that we have taken steps to ensure that schools offer high-quality careers advice which indeed means that young people hear about not only university but apprenticeships and jobs. We will bring forward legislation to ensure that other organisations can come into schools so that young people get the range of careers advice that they deserve and need.

If that is the case, why did the latest survey on apprenticeships indicate that only one in four children between the ages she mentioned is aware of apprenticeships?

I am sorry: I did not hear exactly what was being said. We take careers advice extremely seriously and we are taking steps, because we are well aware that it is too patchy. We want to ensure that all young people get good careers advice. Perhaps I might speak to the noble Lord outside the Chamber where I can hear what he was saying.

My Lords, despite record numbers of graduates from agricultural colleges and some interesting rural apprenticeships, it is proving almost impossible for young farmers to get a tenancy unless it is by inheritance. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to offer additional support to young farmers to secure tenancies, such as the young entrants’ schemes in place in Scotland and Wales—or is there something else we could do to address this serious problem as we seek to get a new generation of farmers?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. To give him a full response, I will have to go back and write to him; I do not have the information he asked for.

My Lords, the news that the noble Baroness gives us is good in part and we are pleased to hear it, but it comes when a consultation is out on the measures that will be required for a number of insolvencies of FE colleges and just after the publication of a skills plan by the current Minister. The skills plan does not mention agriculture. Can the Minister explain why?

The noble Lord will be aware that we are undertaking an extensive review of provision. Landex has undertaken a review of land-based provision across England to inform the relevant area reviews and to look at the availability of FE colleges. Where relevant, it will certainly take into account the demand for land-based skills and education.

My Lords, in order for the Government to achieve a tripling of apprenticeships, it will be necessary to engage with the SME sector, which dominates the rural space. Many SME businesses find the documentation and bureaucracy difficult; can the Government do anything to help in that respect? Also, can the apprenticeship levy be targeted to try to assist SME businesses where possible?

The noble Lord is right: we absolutely want to work closely with employers of all sizes and we are doing a lot of work with SMEs. Employers with a pay bill of less than £3 million will not have to pay the apprenticeship levy but will continue to access government funding.