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It is always a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon and to hear his Irish accent. The Celtic fringe is present in force today in this debate.
I begin with the good news that apprenticeship week is being celebrated in Wales with £40 million being given by the Labour-led Welsh Assembly for expanding apprenticeships. Has the Minister had the chance to read the statement by the Welsh Assembly Minister announcing a one-off payment of £500 to small and micro-businesses to overcome the barriers to employing apprentices? I hope that he will think about introducing something similar throughout the country.
The idea of apprentices always conjures up romantic images from the ’50s and ’60s of the draughtsman, the plumber and the electrician taking a five-year apprenticeship. As much as I welcome apprentices and apprenticeship week, I am concerned that a number of people believe that they are following an apprenticeship when they are doing nothing of the sort. It is not the regeneration of apprenticeships, but the rebadging of apprenticeships. I think of Morrisons as the largest employer of apprentices in this country. One in 10 apprentices work at Morrisons, but what are they apprenticed to do? What profession will they come out with? Is it a meat cutter, a green grocer or a fishmonger? I do not know, and I hope that we will look into that.
Apprenticeships that last only a matter of weeks or months devalue great apprenticeship schemes such as those at Pensord Press in Pontllanfraith in my constituency and in Jaguar Land Rover in the constituency of Jeremy Lefroy. The Richard report bears that out. He noted two things that I have seen myself: the quality and the quantity of apprenticeships. I was hoping to develop this point further, but I have only a minute. At the moment we have box-ticking, and many companies do not appreciate the worth of apprenticeships. I hope that the Minister will look at the example of Germany, where apprentices take an exam at the end of their apprenticeship, like a driving test. There is a qualification standard for each and every sector, so that employers know exactly what they are getting.
Unless we grasp the nettle now and unless we bring about real quality apprenticeships, we risk falling even further behind India and China, and that is the worst thing that we could do for our young people.