Apprenticeships

Oral Answers to Questions — Innovation, Universities and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 20th November 2008.

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Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton 10:30 am, 20th November 2008

What steps he is taking to increase the number of apprenticeships available for young people; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

We have rescued and expanded apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are now well on the way to taking their rightful place as a mainstream option for young people. On Tuesday, I published our spending plans for 2009-10, and I am pleased to say that total Government investment for apprenticeships will increase to more than £1 billion. We are introducing a new entitlement to an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people who wish to take up an apprenticeship, and we are working with employers to expand the number of places on offer.

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Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct: progress is being made. If we look at the local authority in my constituency, we see that in the past three years there has been a nearly 200 per cent. increase in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships. However, that hides a problem relating to employers' willingness to undertake apprenticeships, particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises. What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage employers, particularly in that sector, to take up apprenticeships as a way of improving the productivity of their businesses?

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I should say that we are continuing to increase the number of apprenticeship starts, including starts among smaller employers, so many small employers do find apprenticeships valuable and are willing to support and advocate them. However, we are also keen to see support for group training associations, whereby employers come together to undertake the central administration and development of apprenticeship schemes. It can take some of the responsibility for administration off the individual smaller employer, and we wish to see more of it.

In London, we are also keen to expand public sector apprenticeships, and the taskforce that the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my right hon. Friend Mr. Lammy, chairs has set a target for London boroughs to more than treble the number of apprentices whom they employ in the coming years.

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Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Chair, Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

The Secretary of State will agree that the target of 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020 is very ambitious. As Mr. Love suggested, at present only one in 10 companies has become involved in the apprenticeship scheme—and that was when the country was in a boom. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically to encourage companies, which are going into a recession, to engage with apprenticeships? What will he do if he cannot maintain the offer of two apprenticeship places for every 16 to 18-year-old, which he believes will be possible by 2012 to 2015?

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

First, we are maintaining our investment in the apprenticeship system. That is absolutely essential; it is one of the ways in which we as a Government can show that we are on the side of hard-working families and businesses in these difficult times. The more that we do that, and the more that we take the necessary measures, the more quickly we will come through the current problems.

On the time scales that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I should say that I am confident that we will have the number of apprenticeships across our economy to meet our targets. We will work with private sector employers, but we must also expand significantly the number of public sector traineeships, and we will do so. At the moment, the public sector employs disproportionately few apprentices, given its size in the economy.

We will work across central Government; I have an apprentice in my own office, and there are others across Whitehall and in local government. We will continue until we expand the number— [Interruption.] As somebody once said, this is clearly the time for a novice. The apprentice in my office is already proving himself a great deal better than a novice, and I am not talking about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Public sector apprenticeships will be crucial.

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Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour, Loughborough

As my right hon. Friend knows, it will be small companies in particular that get us out of this recession. Last week, I was pleased to visit Preci-Spark Ltd, a large engineering company in my constituency which has always invested in apprenticeships. It will continue to do so. Building on what he has said, what can my right hon. Friend do further to encourage the sector to continue to invest? The company realises that it will probably lose its employees to other people, but a philanthropic attitude is involved and it knows that it will also gain from elsewhere.

Will my right hon. Friend go further and ensure that, unlike during the Tory recessions—when I worked in the sector and apprenticeships were the first thing to go—we invest more in apprenticeships at this crucial time? In that way, when we come out of recession, we will have a skilled work force ready to build on the success that will come when the economy grows again.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

It is essential that we maintain the investment in apprenticeships; indeed, we are increasing it to more than £1 billion. We must also continue to push the message that we have stripped out a great deal of the bureaucracy and other difficulties that have put people off in the past. Another key thing is to make sure that the message gets across clearly to employers in two ways. The first is contrary to what some employers feel: companies that invest in apprentices are more likely to keep their staff, because people repay the investment made in them by a good employer. Secondly, the evidence from the last recession was that companies that invested in training were two and a half times more likely to come through successfully. We are working with major national employers, smaller employers and organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses to get the message across that this is the time to maintain investment in skills.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am tempted to say that the Secretary of State's apprentice is scrubbing up very nicely. Does the Secretary of State agree that the word "apprentice" covers a multitude of things? How many of the young people who will receive apprenticeships will have the rigorous training of true craft apprenticeships?

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

At the heart of the apprenticeship model is the fact that a key part of the person's training takes place while they are employed and at work. That is the central, defining aspect of an apprenticeship. We have made it clear that we are taking out of the system anything that does not fit that crucial employment relationship during the apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are capable of being the best way of learning in a wide variety of situations. For many years, large supermarkets have offered craft apprenticeships in the bakery section, and apprentices learn the full range of skills to level 3 and beyond. However, the apprenticeship model can work just as well for somebody studying to level 2 in retail management. My commitment is to offer support to employers to ensure that they have the right apprenticeships for their company, trade and training needs. That will produce a mixture of those that are at an advanced and a craft level and those that are at a lower level but none the less provide a crucial stepping stone for the young person involved and a valuable skill for the employer.

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