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Apprenticeships

Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of David Ward David Ward Liberal Democrat, Bradford East 5:37 pm, 12th March 2013

The average unemployed person, especially young people who are seriously looking for employment, will not give a jot who should claim credit for rejuvenating apprenticeships. All parties should pat themselves on the back for trying to rejuvenate apprenticeships, which had almost disappeared. Wherever credit should lie, the fact that this initiative is being developed at pace is welcome.

Where did we go wrong? Over the past 20 or 30 years we failed to deal with huge structural issues in the labour market. Immigration played some part, especially in communities with rising young populations, but many businesses tell me they would have gone bust without immigrants, particularly over the past 10 years. Structural change to the labour market is important in a place such as Bradford. In the good years, 1998 to 2008, we lost 40%—15,000—of our manufacturing jobs. Hon. Members need only think what opportunities could have been offered for apprenticeships.

We are all aware of the tale of educational under-attainment from which we have suffered for many years. I worked in a university for about 20 years and always felt that the 50% target was absurd. It was not matched by an equivalent increase in funding, and the unit cost dropped. It became too easy to go to university, and when I started work in the 1980s there was no one in the class who did not want to be there, but by the time I left many young people were there simply because they did not know where else to be—it was a deferred decision. The most difficult thing I faced in dealing with admissions in the summer was my awareness of the huge attrition rate in the autumn as students drifted into other things and did not stay on the course. Those changes required fundamental changes to be made to the apprenticeships programme and they are now being made.

The briefing of the Association of Colleges to the Education Committee’s inquiry into careers guidance, which has been referred to by other Members, contained the statistic that

“only 7% of pupils are able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE qualification.”

That is simply not good enough. The report proposes changes.

The proportion of students who stayed on to the sixth form and went on to university became a means of comparing secondary schools. Bradford only has sixth forms; there are no sixth-form colleges. Schools wanted to have a very high proportion of young people who stayed on into the sixth form and went on to university and were in no mood to advise them to go down another route.

Ralf Dahrendorf’s book on life chances, which was published in the 1970s, had a profound impact on my views. It spoke of the need to create alternatives and possibilities for young people so that they could lead a fulfilled life. Apprenticeships offer something other than the route that young people are told is the only route that they should pursue. As we have said many times before, we reached the position where somebody who did not go to university was regarded as a failure. We cannot have that culture and it desperately needs to change.

There are many things that we need to do. The expansion of apprenticeship places has happened at such a pace that problems with quality are inevitable. That was identified by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. However, we are on a journey and are not there yet.

Clear evidence has been produced by organisations such as the Prince’s Trust of inequality in the apprenticeship places that are offered. Young people are disproportionately disadvantaged, as has been mentioned, as are those from black and minority ethnic communities. That is shown clearly in the statistics.

The growth of apprenticeships has been very well received in Bradford. I have one of the most deprived constituencies with one of the highest levels of youth unemployment. However, we are managing to get more than 1,000 people in my constituency and 5,000 people across the Bradford district into apprenticeships each year. That is extremely good news.

We are not there by a long way, but we are heading in the right direction—a direction that has been desperately needed for a long time.