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Young People: Alternatives to University — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 23rd October 2014.

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Photo of Lord Layard Lord Layard Labour 3:29 pm, 23rd October 2014

My Lords, this debate is about the low skills of the non-graduate workforce. For years, we thought that the answer to that was more full-time vocational education, so we introduced, first, the GNVQ, as has been said already, and then the diploma. Both of them failed because that is not the way to get skills to the people in a form that employers want. It was also not the form of training that the young people wanted—they wanted to earn at the same time as learning.

Eventually, by about 2009, the previous Government accepted that the main alternative to university education should be apprenticeships. That was an enormous step forward and it led to the apprenticeships Act. The most important thing in that Act was the guarantee offered that by 2015 every young person with minimum qualifications would be entitled to the offer of an apprenticeship. It was an extraordinarily important step because only a guarantee rather than a numerical target energises a system, and there are people for whom a solution has to be found.

Unfortunately, the coalition Government repealed that part of the Act. As has been said, they switched their main focus of expansion from youth apprenticeships to apprenticeships for those over 25, and we now have fewer youth apprenticeship starts than we did in 2009-10. However, there is a figure that I want to highlight. Among young people aged 18 today, only 8% are in work-based learning, 51% are in full-time education, and 41% are doing neither. That is a shocking fact which I hope will be addressed as a result of this debate. We need a completely new deal for that 41%, and I think that the right deal is to reintroduce by 2020 an apprenticeship guarantee. I will say a word or two about how it might be structured slightly differently from before and how it might be delivered.

As in Germany, the main type of apprenticeship has to be at level 3, as has been said already, but employers are going to accept on to such apprenticeships only those youngsters who already have a decent record of achievement. Therefore, we need a solution for the people who do not at that point have a decent record of achievement. We have to establish a new system of pre-apprenticeship courses in further education colleges which are explicitly aimed at getting somebody qualified for an apprenticeship. These courses, which exist only sporadically at the moment, would of course include work experience, but I think that if they were provided in a framework where young people knew that if they completed them properly they would be entitled to an apprenticeship, they would be overwhelmed with applicants.

Therefore, we need an apprenticeship guarantee with two parts. First, every young person under 21 should be entitled to take a pre-apprenticeship course and, secondly, everybody who successfully completes such a course should be entitled to the offer of a level 3 apprenticeship. Of course, others would also be entitled to the offer of a level 3 apprenticeship, such as those who had five good GCSEs, including maths and English, and those who have completed a level 2 apprenticeship or traineeship, as well as the new tech bacc, proposed by our party. I repeat that we need to think in terms of a guarantee with two parts: a pre-apprenticeship for anybody without qualifications to offer and a level 3 apprenticeship if they complete that successfully. Of course, the whole system of applications has to be integrated with the university application system through UCAS.

The second question is: how can we find places for all these people? Obviously it is in the collective interests of business to provide them, but pressure and exhortation has to be applied to individual employers, and that role has to fall on the National Apprenticeship Service, which was set up by the apprenticeships Act. The service’s record has not been perfect but it is the only national body with local outreach that could possibly be capable of doing the job. Of course, it will also need money to pay for the training subsidy that goes to the employer of each apprentice.

Fortunately, there is now a lot of money in apprenticeships, but it is going to the wrong people—to those over 25. Therefore, we have the scope, without huge extra expenditure, to redirect money to solve the problems of getting our young people off to the right start in life. Surely we ought to accept that our moral obligation is greatest to the people at the very beginning of their careers. Our obligation is especially to those 40% who are completely missing out at the moment. This is the time when we need to give them a new deal.