Amendment 34

Part of Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:43 pm on 12 October 2021.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 8:43, 12 October 2021

My Lords, apprenticeships have been a really important development, particularly for young people. We saw at the beginning of the development of apprenticeships how young people felt that this was an important way to develop their skills and career prospects. For young people, it meant no student debt and more experience—20% on study and the rest on practical training—but in recent years, we have seen a massive decline in apprenticeships for young people, not just because of Covid. Current rates of employer-funded training for 16 and 17 year-olds are at their lowest levels since the 1980s. Just 3% of young people took up an apprenticeship in 2020 and only 2% of those were employer-funded training: it is almost back to the future.

Obviously, the pandemic and staying in education has had an effect, but the IFS concluded that there are fewer policy reforms or initiatives to arrest that decline in work experience among 16 to 17 year-olds. That is the area that we need to talk about, to look at and to be flexible about. Apprenticeship, like other routes of technical education, suffers from entrenched negative perceptions, biases and stereotypes in comparison to an academic route. Apprenticeship providers of high quality that lead to high earnings and better employment outcomes need to be stressed.

The Government have set a target that all public bodies should take on 250 apprenticeships with no age bracket, but the National Audit Office report found that employers were simply using money on existing professional development courses. Will the Government look again at how those targets might be honed more to young people because there is no age limit on them?

Of course, experienced workers should upskill or retrain, but apprenticeships should be prioritised for young people. The Government should look at employers and at receiving funds from the apprenticeship levy, using a substantial part of it on young people who began apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3, before the age of 25. We now need to refocus on the under 25s. We need to be ambitious, particularly with how we use the levy. The LGA—I declare an interest as a vice-president —has asked for more flexibility, for example by allowing a proportion of levy funds to be used to subsidise apprenticeship wages.

As we have discussed before, any of the apprenticeship that is unused of course goes back to the Treasury. The Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership did a survey of its membership and found that 54% of the levy was unspent and going back to the Treasury. What a waste for the education sector and for skills and vocational education. Why are we allowing that to happen? We could unlock that logjam by ensuring that we use that money in more flexible ways—there are plenty of examples.

My amendment highlights the issue of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, who, quite frankly, have not been taking up apprenticeship opportunities. We need to understand why, and how we can encourage them to do that. By being flexible, we can perhaps make that happen. I hope that Members will support this amendment.