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Apprenticeships

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow 9:30 am, 8th November 2012

What recent steps he has taken to increase the number of apprenticeships.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills

More than a million apprenticeships have been started under this Government, 500,000 of them in the last year. As well as this welcome increase in quantity, we are improving the quality of apprenticeships so they are rigorous and provide value for money while being more rewarding to employer and apprentice alike.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Since 2011 the Department for Work and Pensions has encouraged its private suppliers through procurement to hire nearly 2,000 apprentices. If this were rolled out across Whitehall, it would create nearly 100,000 new apprenticeships. Will the new Minister with responsibility for apprentices study this pilot scheme to see whether we can make that happen?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills

As my hon. Friend knows, I am hugely supportive of the DWP pilot and will study its outcomes carefully, in particular the value for money that it generates. I pay tribute to his parliamentary apprentice academy. Getting an apprentice through the academy that he supports is extremely easy and I recommend it to all Members of the House.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Does the Minister agree that our schools and colleges play a key role in helping to encourage young people who are potential apprentices, and that they need to provide the courses that are relevant to industry today?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills

I certainly do agree. It is important to include English and maths in apprenticeships for all those who do not have level 2, and we must do more to make sure we inspire young people to look not only at the academic route, but at apprenticeships which combine work and training at the same time.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I commend my hon. Friend and his predecessor for their work on the apprenticeship programme. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published its report on apprenticeships. Can he say a little more about the drive for quality, as opposed just to quantity, of apprenticeships?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills

I welcome the Select Committee’s report. The focus on quality in apprenticeships is important. We have already said that almost all apprenticeships must be longer than a year, and we have taken action to close down some low-quality provision, so this is a direction that I very much want to go in. I will be studying the recommendations of the report extremely carefully.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

After the rhetoric, has the Minister read what the all-party Select Committee said in its report last week about his Department’s handling of apprenticeships? It said that the apprenticeship scheme

“continues to lack clarity and purpose” and an “overarching strategy” to succeed. Those are the latest in a series of warnings to the Department. There was Jason Holt’s report on small and medium-sized enterprises. Apprenticeship starts over the past year are down for under-19-year-olds in seven out of the nine English regions, down in engineering by 30%, and down in construction by 18%. The Minister’s own officials say that one in five apprenticeships get no training, and, as we heard, the Select Committee has issued strong warnings about quality. When will his Department take practical steps such as those that we have urged for almost a year, requiring big companies that want Government contracts to take on apprentices? If the Minister does not get a grip on this, it is not Pitt or Disraeli that he will have to compare himself to, but being in the bunker in charge of phantom armies.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills

I am glad the shadow Minister has mined the report for all the negatives. I want to start with the opening sentence of the Select Committee report, which says, “We welcome the commitment of this Government to apprenticeships.” This Government commissioned Jason Holt’s report so of course I welcome it. We have already taken action to improve quality and we will take more action. Not least am I looking forward to the Doug Richard report later this month. The vital thing to do is not only to increase the quantity of apprenticeships, as we have done, but to make sure that they provide excellent value for money, so that all those apprentices throughout the country get a brilliant education as well as training in work, and that is what we will deliver.