Over the past two years, we have removed 54,000 apprenticeships for under-19-year-olds that had a planned duration of less than 12 months, so the overall number of apprenticeship starts for that age group has fallen by 15,000. The number of apprenticeships for under-19-year-olds including a real job and lasting for more than 12 months increased by 25,000.
On a recent visit to Bromley college, I was told by a construction skills tutor that in the eight years he had worked there, not once had he taught a bricklaying apprentice. When I asked him why, I was told that the qualification associated with such an apprenticeship is very rigid, making it neither attractive nor appropriate for employers. If we want to reduce the reliance of the UK’s construction sector on migrant labour, should we not be doing more to make skills and experience available to our young men and women, so that they can go on to get jobs in the construction industry?
I actually agree with the hon. Lady about many of the old standards for apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced the trailblazer programme so that groups of employers are putting together relevant and demanding but accessible standards for young people. I visited a fantastic new further education college the other week—Prospects college of advanced technology in Basildon—where I met a few apprentices who are doing a bricklaying apprenticeship and find it very worth while. The hon. Lady is right, however, that many of the old apprenticeship standards were inadequate and unattractive to young people and employers.
Some parts of the public sector set a fantastic example—the Ministry of Defence is a very good example and the NHS is another—but not all Government Departments and, I suspect, not all of us as Members of Parliament, are doing everything we could. I urge every part of the public sector to do everything it can to create apprenticeships so that more young people can get on the ladder to a successful career.
It is very bad news that the number of apprentices under the age of 19 is falling and that the number of apprentices who go on to study degree-level skills is just 2% and rising at a very slow pace. The Opposition are clear that our priority for expanding university level education is for technical degrees so that more apprentices can earn while they learn up to degree-level skills.
May I ask the Minister about the expansion plans? In the autumn statement, the Chancellor said that he would sell the student loan book to expand the number of degree-level places. On
Frankly, what is regrettable is that the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a major part created entirely phoney, Mickey Mouse apprenticeships, called programme-led apprenticeships, which involved no employment at all, no job and lasted less than a year. We make no apologies for culling those qualifications, which were a fraud on employers and young people. We are increasing the funding for higher apprenticeships and the plans have been set out.
Since May 2010, more than 3,000 young people in Chester have started an apprenticeship scheme, and those fabulous opportunities have become available only because more than 600 local employers are offering apprenticeships. Does my hon. Friend have any intention of changing the incentives that companies receive for taking on apprentices in order to encourage more companies to get involved and for more young people to have this fabulous opportunity?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Chester is just one example. The truth, contrary to what Mr Byrne has said, is that in 2012-13 more people were in an apprenticeship—that is, at the start, middle or end of one—than ever before. The more than 830,000 young people that year is a number that the previous Government never even came close to, despite their Mickey Mouse apprenticeships.
My hon. Friend is right about incentives, particularly for young people to take apprenticeships and, more importantly, for employers to take them on, because often they are the ones who require the most supervision, and that is exactly what our funding reforms will deliver.