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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside 5:57 pm, 12th March 2013

I was going to thank the last Labour Government for initiating national apprenticeships week, but I have now learned that more specifically I need to thank my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who was the Minister who brought in this wonderful celebration of apprentices, businesses and our economy. I am pleased to say that it is being celebrated in my constituency, culminating in North Tyneside’s showcase event on Saturday, “Get up and Go”, where young people, parents and carers can learn about local apprenticeship opportunities and what it is like to earn and learn across a spectrum of jobs.

This year, the borough’s apprentice employer of the year—for businesses employing more than 250 people—was insurethebox, a company based at Quorum business park at Longbenton in my constituency. It is a relatively new company that now employs 290 people from across the whole region. Its staff proactively enter schools and colleges in the area, teaching students about the world of work and offering work experience, with the aim of increasing the company’s apprenticeship work force to achieve a ratio of 1:10. Since 2011, the company has taken on 31 apprentices between the ages of 16 and 24, six of whom are now fully qualified. Once they are recruited by insurethebox, which accounts for two thirds of the UK telematics market, the apprentices get the opportunity to develop their careers, moving into areas such as human resources, claims handling and underwriting. I was happy to learn that this modern, forward-looking company wants to increase its apprenticeships even further as part of its recruitment drive.

As part of national apprenticeship week, I visited Fabricon Offshore Services, which is another company based at the Quorum business park. The company is a leading provider of brownfield engineering, procurement, construction and project management services to the offshore oil and gas industry, through a range of technical services and solutions. I was there to shadow one of the six first-year engineering apprentices, 18-year-old Darius Bahrami from Sunderland. Darius had studied A-levels at school, but unlike many of his friends he had decided to take up an engineering apprenticeship, as opposed to going to university. He told me that a number of his friends wished that they, too, had taken up an apprenticeship, as opposed to following a university career. Apart from experiencing how software is used in engineering, I attended a “Lesson learnt” presentation with Darius and other first-year apprentices, which was given by one of Fabricon’s now qualified apprentices, Carl Blewitt, who explained the process of going from being an apprentice to becoming a junior mechanical engineer. He is now at university. I saw in him a very good role model for his first-year colleagues.

Those apprentices are fortunate to be working at a fast-growing company such as Fabricon. They enjoy the best training possible and are up to scratch. As well as gaining sought-after experience, they receive HNC qualifications. However, Fabricon, like other companies in the industry, is fighting to fill a skills gap. One third of its staff are over 55. That is because businesses in the oil and gas industry cut back on the number of trainees and apprentices they took on in the ’80s and ’90s. Given the rapidly diminishing window to recruit people quickly enough to replace the ageing work force while still “downloading” skills and experience from people currently in post, companies such as Fabricon are battling. Because of the skills gap and its commitment to skills and development, Fabricon has launched its own dedicated offshore services academy, which is providing full training for apprentices and working with the universities in the area.

Another thing I would like to highlight is the fact that the Government now require those over 24 to apply for a 24+ advanced learning loan, which my local TyneMet college has said will be a barrier to people becoming mature apprentices. I have highlighted the fact that there are two fantastic things happening in North Tyneside—