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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 6:24 pm, 12th March 2013

Today I had the honour and privilege of spending a couple of hours with an amazing group of young people—some of the apprentices from MBDA, an advanced manufacturing company in my constituency. They are sitting in the Public Gallery listening to our debate.

Anyone visiting the apprentices at Lostock is blown away by their quality and competence, as well as by MBDA’s commitment to them, led by Bernie Waldron, the managing director of manufacturing, and Gareth Humphreys, the human resources adviser on education, both of whom started as apprentices at the company. MBDA does not just teach apprentices skills for the workplace, but concentrates on growing the whole person. Personal development is just as important as formal qualifications.

The young people are entered into competitions such as World Skills. The view that young people are diamonds in the rough that just need polishing shines through everything they do. They are currently taking part in the second year of the Brathay challenge; the aim of the regional stage is to raise the profile of apprenticeships and complete a community project. I wish all the competitors well, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that the apprentices from Lostock will be victorious, although I should like to persuade the organisers to change the final event to one of skill, not just strength, which militates against companies that ensure they have mixed-gender teams.

MBDA has 62 apprentices: 35 young women and 28 young men. It is a great achievement for an engineering company. MBDA runs a four-year programme, and the apprentices complete ONC, HNC, HND and NVQ level 4. Business apprentices complete a business management degree, NVQ 4 and the City and Guilds senior award. It is a fantastic programme, growing the next generation of employees.

MBDA apprentices go into schools to promote apprenticeships in engineering. It is a bit of a shock to pupils when beautifully turned-out young women tell them that they are engineers, but sadly, many schools still see apprenticeships as a choice for their less able students, not for their high flyers.

Jade told me about her experience. Following a visit to her college from MBDA apprentices, she decided to apply for an apprenticeship. Her electronics tutor supported her, but he was the only one. Other tutors said: “What are you doing an apprenticeship for when you could be going to university?”, “You’re too clever to do an apprenticeship”, and “You show too much potential. You need to go to university if you want to progress in a career.”

Some of those people changed their minds, but recently a teacher told a family friend of Jade’s:

“I always thought Jade would do better, would have gone to university and achieved good grades.”

Hurtfully, the teacher went on to say that they always knew that Jade would just float along in something easy and stick to what she knew, although she had the potential to do so much more.

As Jade says, her apprenticeship is far from easy:

“I am currently studying for my HNC, working three and a half days a week, training two nights for my rugby team.”

I forgot to say that she is in the England student team and plays at the weekend. She says that she is

“finding time for my friends and boyfriend. It takes a lot of hard work and I have to make sacrifices but the rewards all come at the end.”

Jade’s view is shared by Beth Sherbourne who recently won the higher apprentice of the year award. Beth said:

“Instead of a £40,000 debt I’ve got a first class honours degree, four years work experience, a well paid job and a Mini Cooper.”

The apprentices at MBDA show what can be achieved by young people. We need to do far more to encourage young people to undertake apprenticeships. Today I asked them if they had any regrets about going for an apprenticeship. Unanimously they said that they had no regrets at all.