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The employer-led modern apprenticeship taskforce chaired by Sir Roy Gardner is advising Ministers on the development of modern apprenticeships. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met the Engineering Employers Federation, and Ministers regularly meet the CBI, the Small Business Council and representatives from the network of sector skills councils.
Those hon. Members who, like me, did an apprenticeship will know how valuable apprenticeships are not only to the individual but to society as a whole. However, this country lags behind its competitors: only 28 per cent. of Britons are qualified to apprentice craft or technical levels, whereas in France the figure is 51 per cent. and in Germany 65 per cent. I make no party political point—the matter is too important. What innovative measures can we take to draw the attention of the public and teachers to the need for more people to take up modern apprenticeships and to promote those apprenticeships? These days, it costs more to call out a plumber at the weekend than a brain surgeon.
I will not comment on the respective requirements for brain surgeons on each side of the House. There should be maximum consensus on this policy, and I am delighted to tell the House that a record 255,000 young people are undertaking modern apprenticeships and that 36,000 employers offer apprenticeships. In the next few weeks, we intend to announce a significant marketing and advertising campaign aimed at attracting more employers who are willing to offer apprenticeships. Many young people see apprenticeship as a high-status, high-quality route into the labour market, but as a country, we need far more employers to offer apprenticeships. Mr. Norman will be delighted to hear that Asda has joined the apprenticeship scheme this year and is offering 1,000 apprenticeships. That kind of lead by large, better-known companies is important. I ask all hon. Members to communicate with employers in their respective constituencies and ask them to offer apprenticeships to our young people.
My hon. Friend will note the shortage of skills, particularly in the construction industry. Will he take every opportunity to tell the Learning and Skills Council that we need more construction skills courses in our colleges around the country? Local businesses in my area find it difficult to send apprentices long distances in order for them to attend the necessary courses.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. If we are to meet the challenging targets that the Government have rightly set for the housebuilding programme, for example, we will need skilled people to deliver high-quality craftsmanship. We want the sector skills councils, the employer-led organisations, to determine the nature of the apprenticeship need and the colleges and learning and skills councils to ensure that courses are available. We want an education and training system that is far more responsive to the needs of the economy than it has been in the past. The work that is being done in construction is an innovative example of how we can make such progress.
I am very pleased to see such strong cross-party support for apprenticeships. I hope that the figures that the Minister has announced today will be dramatically increased, because they are still inadequate. Does he agree that the manufacturing and construction industries desperately need apprentices—people with qualifications—and will he seek to attract more people into apprenticeships? Will he also have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about encouraging industry further to employ apprentices and to ensure that when they are qualified they have proper status? In many other countries, engineers are highly respected. Can we achieve the same respect for engineers in this country?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. One of the challenges identified by the Tomlinson review is to ensure that we have a high-quality, high- status vocational route available to young people and that once they have received that qualification it is valued every bit as much as a degree. Many advanced modern apprentices should be able to go on to do a foundation degree, because that will meet the needs of their sectors. The policies of the Conservatives on higher education would deny those young people in apprenticeships the opportunity to move on to higher education. It is when the route does not lead to higher education that it is perceived as being of lower status.