That is an important point. We have experienced people from the food sector involved in the development of the new apprenticeships. The idea that I had came when I visited a McCain factory, which manufactures chips from potatoes. It was clear to me that it had a well-resourced and well-managed apprenticeship programme within McCain, but there are 300 potato farmers in its supply chain. In most cases, those farmers do not have a human resources director to take care and look after an apprenticeship programme professionally. There was an opportunity to use the organisation and the skill sets that companies such as McCain have to foster apprenticeships on farms in Norfolk and Suffolk and wherever potatoes are grown.
I have been privileged to meet apprentices as the Minister responsible for agriculture, fisheries and food at DEFRA, and I know what great careers can begin from an apprenticeship. For example, I recently spoke alongside a former apprentice at a Feeding Britain’s Future event for unemployed young people interested in careers in food and farming. The young man had decided to do a mechanical engineering apprenticeship instead of following a conventional university degree, and after four years of training was earning more than £40,000 a year. Apprenticeships are a brilliant alternative to university because they allow apprentices to earn while they learn. New apprenticeship standards are being developed at degree level. Apprenticeships provide fantastic learning opportunities by allowing apprentices to develop their new skills on the job.
Employers benefit from apprentices. It has been calculated that the average person who completes their apprenticeship increases business productivity by around £214 a week through increased profits and productivity, and better-quality products. Small employers provide fantastic opportunities for people to get on the career ladder. Some 96% of the food manufacturing sector are SMEs, which can also benefit from hiring apprentices. SMEs have to pay only 10% of the costs of training their apprentices—the Government pay the remaining 90%.