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Apprenticeships

Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 12th March 2013.

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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 6:47 pm, 12th March 2013

It is a great pleasure to be here, in national apprenticeship week, celebrating apprenticeships. We have had an extremely positive debate, with almost all contributions being positive and huge support on both sides of the House for apprenticeships. Success has many fathers. We heard first the claim that apprenticeships really got going in 1997. I had planned to say that they were in fact first mentioned in Chaucer 651 years ago, but then we heard the even greater claim from Mr Lammy that they are as old as human beings.

It has been a great national apprenticeship week so far. At 5.30 this morning I was learning from Morrisons apprentices how to fillet fish, and what brilliant apprentices they are. It is quite a skill they have with knives—I certainly cannot match it. I have only one note of mild disappointment, because the speech we just heard from the Opposition Front Bench was rather disappointing. I thought that Ms Buck sounded rather like the sultan of scepticism or the Eeyore of apprenticeships, only seeing the worst and determined to dampen, downgrade and darken the mood. But we will not darken the mood, Mr Deputy Speaker, because apprenticeships are a cause to celebrate, and celebrate them we will.

Let me turn to the many issues raised by Members across the Chamber. First, careers advice is vital, as the Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Bailey, said, as did the right hon. Member for Tottenham, in a powerful speech, and my hon. Friend Mr Walker and Mr McKenzie. We have introduced a new statutory duty on schools that came into force in September, and Ofsted has said that it is making it a priority to consider that. The new destination data that were brought in this summer not only highlight, as they have in the past, the proportion of pupils going to university but, for the first time, publish for all schools the proportion going into apprenticeships. That is an important step, as Members in all parts of the House will recognise. We look forward to Ofsted’s report in the summer on the implementation of the duty to provide independent and impartial careers advice.

The second issue, which was raised by many Members, is the importance of the link between youth unemployment and apprenticeships. It is a scandal that youth unemployment is as high as it is, falling though it may be, when there are skills shortages in key parts of our economy such as engineering and computing. This shows that the linkage between the education system and the skills system, on the one hand, and employers, on the other, has not been strong enough. As my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price so eloquently explained, increasing that employer focus is a vital part of the reforms that we are pursuing. Another part of those reforms is the introduction of traineeships so that as apprenticeships become more rigorous and more high-quality, there is a programme of support, alongside the DWP programmes, to make sure that people get the skills they need, including in English, maths and work preparation, to get a good job and to hold down a job. My hon. Friend Gavin Williamson, and the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) and for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) also talked about the link between youth unemployment and apprenticeships. Several Members mentioned their local jobs clubs, and I wish them well. I am having a jobs club in Newmarket on Friday and look forward to it very much.

The third issue is how much apprenticeships are valued. The Chair of the Select Committee mentioned the recently published statistic that, on average, a higher apprenticeship increases lifetime earnings by £150,000. Let that figure go out there and let us all present and explain it, because it shows the value of apprenticeships.