Careers Service (Young People)

Part of Opposition Day — [20th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:28 pm on 13th September 2011.

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Photo of Gordon Birtwistle Gordon Birtwistle Liberal Democrat, Burnley 9:28 pm, 13th September 2011

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for bringing this debate to the House, as I believe it is valuable—one of the most important debates I have attended since being elected. It is only a shame that so few Members are present to hear the contributions. [Interruption.] I am not naming names, just making a comment. The principle of the motion is very good, but the way in which it has been written is very poor. [Interruption.] Those might be the words of my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes but they are not in this motion. The problem with it is—[Interruption.] Karl Turner has only just come into the Chamber, yet he seems to think this is a joke.

The motion says:

“That this House believes that the Government should act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for all young people in schools.”

It does not tell us how many times, at what stage careers advice is needed, or how old the young people should be. Let me explain why I believe it has been badly written. If it had been written differently I might have been able to support it.

When I was leader of Burnley council some three years ago, I went to a junior school to speak to some year 6 students who were just about to leave the school and go on to secondary education. The headmistress had invited a number of prominent people in the town—the mayor, myself and one or two more—to say what our jobs were. After we had told the young people what our jobs were, we asked them what sort of vision they had for their future. One little girl said that she was interested in becoming a nursery nurse, as she had some siblings and was keen on looking after them. The shock for me came when one young man said, “I want to be a benefit claimant.” That was the aspiration in life of a young man of 11, and he had never been given any different advice. When I asked him why, he said, “My dad and uncle are benefit claimants and we live very well off it, so why should I get up every morning to go to work?” When I told the head teacher afterwards how stunned I was at that, she said, “I’m afraid that’s the way of the world round here.” I then decided that I would look into how that happened, and what we could do to try to stop it.

After that we got talking to people in the secondary schools. The secondary schools in Burnley have gone through a torrid time, although I am pleased to say that they are now recovering. Nobody in here needs to tell me about privileged students; if they came to Burnley, they would find that we do not have very many privileged students at the moment. I thought it would be a great idea to get the companies involved, and we managed to get a big company involved in every school. They carry out a lot of careers advice because they are the professionals; they know what educational skills they need from the people who are coming to them.

A lot of young people want to go on to university, and that is fine, but a lot of young people are going on to university to study subjects that do not qualify them for any jobs when they have finished studying them, while there are a number of jobs in manufacturing, particularly in Burnley, for which we cannot get staff.

One company in Burnley is looking for 300 skilled workers and cannot get them. It has suddenly decided that taking on a vast number of apprentices, through the Government’s apprenticeship scheme, is a good idea. But a young person of 16 does not get to be a skilled airframe fitter or aero-engine fitter by the time they are 17. The process takes four or five years. For the past 30 years that process has not happened; we have let the whole thing fall apart. I am not blaming the Labour Government or the previous Tory Government, but that has happened; this is where we are.

We have a careers service that has failed the young people of this country for the past 30 years, and we desperately need to do something about it. We do not need the Government to do everything; we need to get the professionals from industry involved. Why do we not invite Sir John Rose, who has retired from Rolls-Royce, to talk to people and advise them about how he would run a careers service? He has run Rolls-Royce for donkey’s years and made it very successful. I do not think that the Government can do this on their own. People outside government can give better advice than anybody within it.

I suggest that the Government should examine what they are doing. I accept the need to do more and if money is available, I hope that they will do more. I also think that the local colleges and further education colleges could do more. Twice a year Burnley college has a careers day, when it invites all the companies from Burnley and most of them attend. They put stands up and speak to young people, and they take vast numbers of young people on as a result of those nights. One company took six apprentices on as a result of one of these nights—young people who had never thought of going into that sort of industry.

We cannot take too narrow an approach to this issue. We should expand it to include everybody involved in employing young people once they have finished school or university. I implore the Government to examine all the options. As I have said, I am disappointed that the motion has been so badly written. [Interruption.] It is not my right hon. Friend’s motion; it is the shadow Secretary of State’s motion. It is badly written—but if it had said, “We want to do this at certain times of people’s education and there is some money for it here,” I assure hon. Members that I would have supported it. Unfortunately, the Opposition motion does not say that.