Apprenticeships and Skills Policy — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:26 am on 8 January 2019.

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[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 2:30, 8 January 2019

I beg to move that,

This House has considered apprenticeships and skills policy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir David. The title of the debate is as broad as possible so that colleagues may join in and give their own perspective. I will address the problems in the apprenticeship levy and regional skills imbalances in our country; the mismatch between the skills system and the needs of the economy; and the need to give tools to places such as Bradford to help us to close the productivity gap between us and London.

In June last year, I held a business and jobs roundtable in my constituency. Business leaders and representatives of trade unions, the Bradford Economic Partnership, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Bradford University and Bradford College all attended, as well as my hon. Friend Peter Dowd. The overall theme for the roundtable was how we could boost economic opportunity for all in Bradford South. Although the discussion ranged over a number of issues, a significant amount of time was spent discussing schools, training and apprenticeships. Later in my speech, I will address the specific issue of the apprenticeship levy, but first I will briefly outline the challenges and opportunities facing Bradford.

Bradford is a great northern city with a proud industrial heritage. That heritage was created by successful businesses, which used new technologies and the city’s pioneering drive to build a world-leading economy. We are still home to many successful and enterprising businesses. In my constituency of Bradford South, we have a strong manufacturing sector. Bradford has 1,200 manufacturing businesses, employing more than 25,000 people in the district, which accounts for 13% of all employees locally compared with 8.3% for Great Britain as a whole.

We face a significant challenge with the interconnected problems of low skills and low wages, and I will give a few figures relating to my constituency to illustrate that. In Bradford South, 15% of the working-age population have no qualifications compared with the UK average of 8%; 14% of our working-age population are qualified to degree level and above, compared with 31% nationally; Bradford South has 600 jobs per 1,000 people in the working-age population, compared with 840 nationally; average weekly workplace earnings stood at £480 in April 2018, compared with a UK average of £570; and Bradford South ranks 520th out of 533 constituencies in England in the social mobility index from the House of Commons Library. Many people in my constituency do not have the skills they would need to access good-quality, well-paid and secure jobs.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making about her constituency. Does she believe that schools in her constituency have something to contribute to redressing the imbalance she is describing?

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I agree that schools have a lot to offer when it comes to redressing the imbalance. I will address schools a little later in my speech, when I will speak about the specific situation in Bradford and the specific project that we have there.

That situation is something of a vicious cycle. The lack of skills makes Bradford a less attractive place for businesses to locate and invest in. A good example is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which cited the lack of appropriate skills as one of the reasons to relocate its offices from Bradford. That is why getting the skills policy right is essential to give places such as Bradford the economic boost that they so badly need.

The issue is becoming ever more urgent as we face the impact of new technologies in the world of work. The Future Advocacy report places Bradford South in the top 40 constituencies that are likely to be affected by automation in the coming years. It also says that 35% of jobs in Bradford are in occupations that are likely to shrink by 2030. It is clear that Bradford will need to adapt to secure good-quality and sustainable jobs.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

The Federation of Small Businesses has raised concerns about the 40-day requirement for placements associated with T-levels. Is that a concern for employers in the Bradford South constituency?

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

That certainly is a concern for employers in my constituency.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

My hon. Friend has mentioned that modern technology plays a major part. Does she agree that the restoration of the education maintenance grant would help students in relation to apprenticeships? Furthermore, cutbacks in further education do not help—it seems to be treated as a Cinderella industry.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I thank my hon. Friend for the wise words and I certainly welcome them. I say to the Minister that now is the time that we must act to create a better skills and training system if we are to prevent disruption further down the line.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

One of the problems we face in my constituency with training centres is that 20 to 25 students will start training, but only four will finish. How can we encourage young people to stay in apprenticeships, or is the apprenticeship scheme not fit for purpose?

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

That is a very interesting and pertinent point. I know that some apprenticeships are paid so poorly and offer so little training—apprenticeships are supposed to be jobs with training—that they are not really worth the paper that they are written on. In my view, they should not be called apprenticeships.

At a local level, a significant amount of work is under way to meet the challenges that I have spoken about, with the Bradford Economic Partnership setting out a local economic strategy with a focus on increasing the number of productive businesses in the district through investing in skills provision.

We recently had Bradford manufacturing week, which I was delighted to support. It aimed to show the young people in Bradford the many exciting opportunities in manufacturing that are right on their doorstep to get them thinking about the skills that they will need for the future. Over half of our secondary schools took part. In just one week more than 3,000 children crossed the doors to get that first-hand manufacturing experience in workplaces.

Another exciting area of work that is being developed locally in Bradford involves the industrial centres of excellence—or ICE—approach to post-14 careers and technical education. ICE gives business a partnership vehicle with local schools, colleges and the University of Bradford to ensure that education and learning in Bradford meet the skills demands of businesses in the local and regional economy within given sector footprints, which opens up opportunities for our young people and improves social mobility.

Those centres are good examples of how schemes that are locally led can deliver for businesses and encourage social mobility. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss them further with the Minister, but Government policy is making it more difficult for places such as Bradford to bring about a transformative change in their labour markets. I will start with the specific issues that Bradford businesses and education providers have raised with me about the operation of the apprenticeship levy.

I fully support the principles behind the levy, but its implementation has compounded the problems of underinvestment in training rather than improving the situation. As the Minister will be aware, the apprenticeship levy aims to encourage employers to invest in apprenticeship programmes, but apprenticeship starts have been significantly down since the introduction of the levy in May 2017. In July 2018, the total number of apprenticeship starts nationally was 25,200.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on securing the debate but on her generosity in giving way. I am sure it will help the new year planning for the keep fit programme.

Skills, education and training are devolved matters in Wales, where there has been a 23% rise in the uptake of apprenticeships—obviously, we are doing something right. I wonder whether the UK Government are talking to the Welsh Government, perhaps about sharing good practice so we can make the success in Wales a success right across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which is definitely one for the Minister to address.

As I was saying, in July 2018 there was a total of 25,200 apprenticeship starts nationally, which represents a 43% drop from July 2016. Starts in Bradford South have fallen from 1,370 in 2015-16 to just 680 in 2017-18 —very nearly a 50% drop. Several Bradford firms have told me that the complexity of the system is a major barrier to entry, and that seems to be a particular problem for small and medium-sized businesses. That was clearly set out to me when I had the privilege of attending the apprenticeship awards evening at Bradford College late last year. While we were discussing the fantastic successes of apprenticeships at the college, it raised a number of difficulties facing both the college and the many SMEs it works with. Many of the latter find the administrative demands of the new apprenticeship system extremely difficult to manage, and the college itself is experiencing cash-flow difficulties, caused by changes to the apprenticeship contract and the digital payment process, with payment times having increased to an average of 14 weeks from an average of seven before the reforms. The college has had to create four new posts to help it to navigate the changes and support its employers.

In his recent Budget, the Chancellor acknowledged some of the shortcomings identified in the current apprenticeship policy. For example, he announced his intention to reduce the requirement to contribute to the costs of off-the-job training from 10% to 5% for non-levy employers, which should help a little. In Bradford South, I have levy employers asking if the same 5% reduction in fees will apply to them once they have exhausted their levy funds. They currently deliver the extra apprenticeships under Solenis, which also requires a 10% core contribution from employers.

I recognise that a new system takes time to bed in, but the Government’s approach needs more than just a little fine tuning. We need a more radical overhaul of our skills policy to help places such as Bradford get the growth and prosperity we deserve. We have a situation where public policy, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has turbo-charged the London economy to the detriment of other towns and cities outside the capital. The Government need to address the failure over decades to tackle persistent regional skills imbalances. We need a mechanism to support industries and individuals in areas that face economic decline and need help to adapt to the demands of the global economy.

The jobs of the future will require people to work more closely with advanced technologies. Workers will need support to adapt and retrain, to secure decent and sustainable work; otherwise, in many places in the UK we will face a lasting legacy of low qualifications, low productivity and low pay. Yet the Government have no convincing strategic framework for identifying sectors and areas in which large numbers of jobs are at risk from technological and economic change. In fact, the apprenticeship levy contributes to further regional imbalances, as more funding is raised per head in London and the south-east than in the rest of the country. London has the lowest skills need in the country, yet the levy will raise more funds there, as the capital has both a greater proportion of workers employed by large employers and far higher pay. The Social Mobility Commission’s “State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain” report identifies that as an emerging risk, and the commission urges the Government to develop education and skills policies to better support disadvantaged young people in areas such as Bradford South, stating that that could be done

“by targeting any used apprenticeship levy funds at regions with fewer high-level apprenticeships”.

According to the commission, apprenticeships are a more common path into employment for young people in many youth coldspot areas, where there are higher barriers to social mobility than in hotspots, but those apprenticeships are often of lower quality than in the hotspots. If we are to rebalance our economy, we urgently need reforms to the apprenticeship levy to ensure that it meets the needs of the most disadvantaged areas and those with a legacy of underinvestment, such as my constituency of Bradford South.

A debate about skills policy must not be just about how to support young people to enter the workplace; it also must consider those who are already working. To achieve a sustainable supply of skills with the flexibility to meet the ever-evolving needs of business, industry and the public sector, the UK must maximise the potential of its existing workforce. That is why the 45% reduction in spending on adult education since 2010 is so short-sighted and damaging to our economy. If Government want business and individuals to see training as an investment and not as a cost, they must lead by example. To meet the wider training need of the economy, we need more focus on how the apprenticeship levy can be used to tackle the overall skills shortage.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I agree with a number of the hon. Lady’s points, but while I accept what she says about individuals gaining access to education as adults, does she not agree that employers have a duty to their staff to ensure that they are properly trained, that their careers are developed, and that appropriate adaptions are made if they transition into another career or a different role in the organisation? It should not necessarily be down to the Government to do that. Employers have an important role and a moral obligation to their staff.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Yes, everyone has a wider responsibility to train and retain. Lifelong learning is, in fact, a mantra going back some decades.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development comments:

“The Government should consider broadening the apprenticeship levy into a wider training levy. The training levy could be reconfigured to cover a much broader range of organisations…whereby all businesses with more than 50 employees would contribute, with larger businesses contributing more to the pot.”

That would allow levy funds to be used to fund people with low qualifications to access pre-apprenticeship training.

A wider problem that has affected this country for decades is overreliance on individual learners to make informed choices about their training in an environment that is not well structured and where independent advice is not freely available. Unlike much of Europe, we do not have a strong industrial sectoral voice to drive collective action from employers. To pursue the high-skills route to business success, more effort must be made to develop that voice. The Government must no longer rely on responding to individual employers and instead work to build up strong sector skills bodies, which will be more able to forecast skills needs and encourage the collective commitment to skills that we have heard about in the debate.

Sectoral institutions should include a range of key stakeholders able to build a wider commitment through an entire industry. That model is found in other western European countries, such as Germany and France, where it is common practice for employers, civil society groups and trade unions to co-operate to achieve mutually agreed goals. Achieving that requires the Government to take both a more active and a more supportive role and to devolve greater power and responsibility to key sectoral bodies. Places such as Bradford need more tools and resource to close the productivity gap with London. Investing more in skills and devolving more to our cities would be a significant step forward in building an economy that works for everyone.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to answer my questions about apprenticeships and skills. In particular, will the Government reduce the administrative burden and the costs of operating the apprenticeship system to the pre-May 2017 levels? What will she do to address the regional imbalances that are built into the apprenticeship levy? Does she intend to develop a strong sectoral voice to articulate and stimulate the demand for skills?

If we get the skills policy right, we can give young people the tools they need to secure high-quality jobs, and we can boost productivity and rebalance the economy so that it works for all places and all people in our country. That must be our absolute priority, and I hope that today’s debate and the Minister’s responses will contribute to getting that right. Finally, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Minister for her welcome interventions in helping to secure a future for Bradford College. I very much look forward to working with her.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:49, 8 January 2019

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and it is an even greater pleasure to follow Judith Cummins. I will take advantage of the way in which she has drawn the subject so widely because I want to answer a fundamental question: how do we get students who are still at school to focus on the options of an apprenticeship and skills training rather than going to university? Those Members who know me may think that that is a rather surprising thing for me to say—I went to three universities and had attachments to two foreign universities while doing so. She will have to forgive that, but I ask the question seriously.

There are two aspects to answering that question: schools, and the method by which we get people attracted to the options of apprenticeships and skills training, which is through work placements. I will start by looking at work placements as a precursor to people going on apprenticeships. I am sure that we have all had people on work placements in our offices; I know that for much of the run-up to the summer holidays, I have a person on a work placement every week. I wonder how many people we are trying to line up to be politicians when we are supposed to be cutting back the number of MPs.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman’s eyes might care to drift towards the Gallery, where he will see a young person from St Dominic’s college in Harrow—just north of my constituency, but she does live in my constituency—who is the living embodiment of the ideals and ambitions that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that person out, and for the way in which he described them. It is fitting to include them in the debate.

It is important to get other people involved in providing work placements—it is not just something for politicians to provide. We need to encourage small businesses to become involved in that, so that people get a feel for the entrepreneurship that is involved in setting up and running a small business. There are a couple of examples of companies in my constituency that do that, such as Williams Jet Tenders, which makes boats to go on other boats. It has a scheme of taking 10 people from the most deprived area of the constituency each year, some of whom go on to do apprenticeships. That training provides them with a lot of experience, and also with a lot of fun, because they end their experience by building little boats that they race against each other. I have been along to present the prizes to the winners, and all of that might sound like great fun, but there is also a seriousness to the skills that they learn: how to make model boats, and how to scale them up from that. Other companies provide that experience as well, including a cabinet and kitchen maker that I have also visited.

Those work placements take a whole lot of learning away from the apprenticeships. I am principally going to mention three areas of learning, the first of which is working well with other people. That may sound obvious, but for young people, working with other people and dealing with the dynamics of that is a skill that needs to be learned. Another skill that is crucial to learn and which work placements can provide is how to cope with criticism. Of course, coping with criticism is something that we as politicians take for granted, so maybe the work placements in our offices do have a purpose, but that is an important thing for people to learn. The third thing is people managing their own time, and making sure that that is part of how they approach life. Those are three examples of skills that work placements can provide, which will take away the need to pick up on those areas of learning during apprenticeships and will also help to make apprenticeships more attractive.

Having dealt with the work placement side, let me turn briefly to the schools side. Schools need to participate. We have been only partially successful in encouraging schools to encourage people to go into apprenticeships and skills training rather than to university. Certainly, among the schools in my constituency, there is a huge variety of attitudes towards encouraging students to go into apprenticeships. Some still have a very old-fashioned view of life and only measure success by the number they send to university.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

I am an MP but I am also a former careers adviser. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is about time that we re-establish a careers service—formerly the Connexions service—that will help people make well-informed and realistic decisions?

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I am open minded. I just think back to my time at university when there was a careers service. I will not tell the House the advice that I was given, but I did not follow it at all—not one iota. I am not sure whether that was down to the quality of the advice or my own sheer cussedness, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point.

It is important that schools focus on promoting apprenticeships as a legitimate option that is equal to going to university, and we need to judge where people go according to their own skills and inclinations. I am pleased to have been able to contribute on the topic of how we get people to go into apprenticeships in the first place. I think we need to put a little more finesse into the work placements that are offered around the country.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. The closing speeches begin at 3.30 pm and there are five colleagues wishing to catch my eye, so I appeal to Members to share the time out, with about six or seven minutes each.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:57, 8 January 2019

What better way could there be to start the new year than being in Westminster Hall under your benign guidance, Sir David? If there were a better way, it could only be being here to discuss matters of such moment, and I give enormous credit to my hon. Friend Judith Cummins for having raised this important subject. J. B. Priestley composed endless panegyrics to the proud city of Bradford—which he called Bruddersford so as not to confuse people—and there was a time when we thought of Bradford as being exemplified by J. B. Priestley. However, my hon. Friend has now adopted that crown, and she is the spokesperson for that city.

I was delighted to hear from John Howell. I was a little surprised by his comments about the more deprived areas of Henley—presumably, that is a place that is down to its last Jaguar. I had not previously thought about the teeming stews and slums of Henley, but I am here to be educated. I was also interested to hear about the careers advice that the hon. Gentleman received. I remember the careers teacher at my school encouraging me to leave at the earliest opportunity, saying that I could go into the Royal Navy at the age of 16. He did say, “By the way, they will take anybody.” One of my colleagues, I seem to remember, thought that he was being advised to become an author when the careers master said to him, “Have you ever thought about being a man of letters?” He ended up, of course, as a postman. [Interruption.] There is nothing wrong with that; there are some distinguished postmen.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

There has been a slightly unpleasant anti-London undercurrent to the debate, with talk about this proud metropolis sucking in all the apprenticeship levies and doing better than other parts of the country. I want to talk about one sector that is reflective of the whole United Kingdom, from Northern Ireland to every other part of the nation, which is the ornamental horticulture and landscaping sector. In our modern workforce, we have this extraordinary problem of a skills shortage. Lest anyone think that ornamental horticulture and landscaping is a minor add-on to the economy, it contributed £24.2 billion to GDP in 2017 and supports 568,000 jobs. It is a crucial sector, but we have a terrible skills shortage. In the absence of Rebecca Pow, I pay credit to her work on the all-party parliamentary gardening and horticulture group, particularly the report it produced last year. I know the Minister is familiar with it and received several copies. I am sure she has many a spare hour in the lonely garret of the Ministry when she is looking for some exciting reading, and the APPG’s report will provide that.

The great joy of horticulture, particularly in the fields of ornamental horticulture and landscaping, is that it offers a route into a skilled profession. Someone who has an aptitude for ornamental horticulture and landscaping—they do not necessarily have to have an enormous amount of academic qualifications, although they help—can access that strand and grow within it and become virtually anything. There is no limit to what someone can achieve. Capability Brown started somewhere. I am not entirely sure where, but it was probably in London, judging from comments today.

We would like to see the Government doing a few things. The Minister will be aware of the modest Christmas wish list, which we have already sent her copies of, but we need to better promote roles in ornamental horticulture and landscaping. People do not understand what the roles are, and we can do much better. There is a lack of horticulture education in UK schools. Current careers advice—I cast no aspersions against present or former careers advisers; they are without a doubt a fine body of women and men—is not giving students knowledge about the sector, which is crying out for entry-level people to work in it. Many would love the idea of an outdoor, creative job that brings about some product at the end of the day—something that they can show and be proud of. We as Members of Parliament are often denied that pleasure, but people who work in horticulture and landscaping certainly have it. The severe skills gap has a knock-on effect for the economy and the environment. When it comes to managing the environment, we need people with knowledge, particularly in landscaping. There is so much that can be done.

I draw the Minister’s attention to a mere two of the recommendations in the APPG report issued in October last year. One is to ask the Government to

“work with sector leaders to promote horticulture as a highly skilled and desirable industry to enter, through encouraging the inclusion of horticulture within the national curriculum…and providing more high-quality horticulture advice through the National Careers Service.”

Recommendation 8 was for the Government to adequately fund FE training, and I think we are as one in this room on that demand. We all call for that. That recommendation also calls on the Government

“to adequately fund FE training in horticulture to ensure the consistent delivery of high-quality training…the Government should ensure the Apprenticeship Levy is more flexible…to fund the work experience requirement of the T Levels and short-term traineeships.”

I am acutely aware of the strictures of time, Sir David, and I am grateful for your typical generosity, so I will conclude. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South has raised a crucial issue. If we do not get things right, we will fail a future generation and a future workforce. I am probably one of the older people in the room. The days when people could leave school at 15, work for the same company for 50 years, have 10 years of retirement and then drop dead are long gone. My son and daughter will probably have 15 or 20 different jobs in their lifetime. People dip in and dip out of different jobs, but they have to have the skills and training. They no longer have a job they can do simply out of sheer muscle. Those days of mass employment are gone.

Nowadays, we are a highly skilled, specialised economy, and highly skilled, specialised workers will not grow on trees. They have to be nurtured, encouraged, supported and financed and their worth has to be recognised. Today’s debate fires the starting gun on that process. It shows how, with a growing GDP and a more skilled, more flexible workforce with areas of expertise growing from FE and careers advice in schools, we can make not only the workforce happier and more productive, but the country a better place. It is not a bad ambition.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 3:05, 8 January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am not quite sure how I follow that tour de force, not least because towards the end of his comments, Stephen Pound expressed— and expanded on well—sentiments that I share, but also because I have very little to say about ornamental horticulture.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

To pick up on the horticulture point, Capability Brown made his name with his work at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, which is not a million miles from the Henley constituency that Stephen Pound so derided.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire

Excellent. I have none of the one-liners, wit or repartee of either my hon. Friend or the hon. Gentleman, so I will move straight on to the debate as a whole.

I congratulate Judith Cummins on securing this valuable and necessary debate. We need to have more such discussions. It would be better to talk more about this issue than some of the other subjects we seem to obsess over in this place and elsewhere.

I want to talk about apprenticeships and skills. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her time over the past few months when I have been to talk to her about apprenticeships. I am a strong supporter of what the Government are doing on apprenticeships, and the direction is very positive. A number of months ago, I had the opportunity to go to Rolls-Royce, which is a major employer in the south of my county, so I have seen what a good-quality apprenticeship programme does to raise the aspirations of people in the local area and equip them with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce for the next 50 or so years.

The Minister knows the feedback I have received from a number of people and organisations in and around my constituency. Chesterfield College is a large training provider in my part of the world. Smaller training providers, such as Stubbing Court Training, say that there have been problems with the introduction of some of the measures. Some of that is understandable—changes are never easy—but she knows some of my underlying concerns. I have passed them on to her, and I ask her to continue working to resolve them.

The debate on skills is one of the most interesting that we need to have in this place, and it speaks to a much bigger point. I was pleased when the hon. Member for Bradford South discussed the challenge of automation within five minutes of talking about skills. I see automation as a challenge and an opportunity. I wanted to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing North on his final comments because it was refreshing to hear a speech where automation was not seen just as a problem, but as something that is coming, is inevitable—there is no point arguing about that—and is an opportunity to grasp, because it brings many opportunities for people.

The challenge I see is that we have to start equipping those in the workforce and those coming into the workforce for the next 50 years. That is a truism—everyone knows that—but I was with a member of my family yesterday. He is 11, and he had just gone to an interview to decide what secondary school he wants to go to from December. He came back and was telling me about all the things he wants to do. It struck me that he will probably still be in the workforce in 2060 or 2070, a long time from now.

I differ slightly from the hon. Member for Bradford South on one point in her introductory remarks. She talked about the Government having a knowledge of what skills are needed and the changes to come. I am not sure we can look that far ahead—I do not suggest the hon. Lady suggested otherwise. Ultimately, for 11 and 12-year-old children, who will still be in the workforce in 2060—hopefully, I will still be in the workforce in 30 years’ time—we must equip them with the skills to be able to still work and take advantage of what the workforce brings. The hon. Lady talked about automation, so I will throw in a few more statistics: the OECD estimates that 15% of jobs will be fully automated and another third partially automated; McKinsey talks about half of all tasks in the workforce being automated; the World Economic Forum talks about 7 million jobs going in our country, but potentially more than 7 million jobs being created. That is the fundamental challenge that we have to try to work through. We cannot plan for it in the traditional way. We cannot execute it from the centre. We have to equip people with the skills to be able to deal with it in the next 20, 30 or 40 years. Partly it is about core knowledge, and the Government have done an enormous amount in terms of reforms in schools over the past 10 years, but part of it is a different set of skills: flexibility, problem solving, persistence and agility. Those are the things I used to look for when I employed people in my old industry, and they are the most difficult things to work out in an interview process.

An interesting discussion needs to be had in Parliament and other forums, including in industry, about how we start codifying and understanding skills. I am not saying we will get to an NVQ level 3 in persistence or anything like that, but we have to have a better understanding of how we define and measure such things so that we can help to teach people or at least develop such skills.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me—I know this applies to you, Sir David—that anyone who has been in the scouts or guides who applies for a job, as is the case in any area that I have ever been employed in, will always get an interview? Does he not agree that that is an excellent thing to have on a CV?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire

As a former scout, I completely agree.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire

I am conscious of time, so I will make my other two points. The first has already been made by others, so I will not dwell on it, but it concerns the need for skills training to be as close to the workplace as possible, not because education is not an end in itself, which we must never forget, but because we need to ensure that we equip people with the right skills that are necessary in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace.

My hon. Friend John Howell talked about entrepreneurship. It is telling that when I left university in 2002, we all wanted to go and work for big companies and do well on the corporate ladder. When people come out of university now, they want to be their own boss, set up their own company and do their own thing. We have to recognise that what people want to do in the world of work is changing. When we debate skills, I hope we can consider equipping people to be able to have the skills that they will need for the next 60 years. They will need different skills—soft skills, particularly—and we need to train them in ways different from how we have trained them historically.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 3:13, 8 January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to follow Lee Rowley.

I see apprenticeships as exciting. We have an exciting opportunity and a chance to put something right that has been wrong for an awfully long time. Every political party talks about parity of esteem, which often feel like words that are just trotted out. When we ask people what their children do, we find that lots of MPs’ children went to university and did not go anywhere near an apprenticeship. If we are serious about wanting to create parity of esteem, we need to have parity of outcomes, which needs a really clear pathway, and I will focus my remarks on that.

One brilliant solution to achieving parity of esteem is degree apprenticeships. Someone can leave, having done an apprenticeship as a degree, and have exactly the same qualification as someone who went to university, so there we have our parity of outcomes, but there is a problem because people join a degree apprenticeship after doing A-levels. We still do not have a clear apprenticeship pathway, so that—judging by the people I have met and talked to—the people who take degree apprenticeships tend to be people whose parents have the knowledge and are perhaps from a middle class background.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I will finish this point first. Such people see the advantage of taking a degree apprenticeship and perhaps are not the people the policy was aimed at.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Having been an apprentice in a previous life, I can tell her the value of an apprenticeship is not necessarily seen by society today. Unless someone has a degree, they are a nothing. It is how we have interpreted it. In third level education, someone must have a degree or they will be a pleb. We must put the emphasis back into an apprenticeship that starts at 16 with a career pathway that ultimately can give someone a degree, as I got through the course that I went on.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I think he will agree with me as I move on in my speech.

On the parity of outcomes, at the moment, as I said, the degree apprenticeship can be achieved only by having A levels, so we have to look at how we build a clear apprenticeship pathway such as we see in Germany, where someone can leave school at 16 and do a level 2 apprenticeship, which then takes them to a level 3 apprenticeship, which takes them to level 4, and if they wish they can then do a degree level apprenticeship. We do not have that system at the moment. I am sorry to say that I disagree with the Minister, who I normally agree with: I regard T-levels as an unnecessary distraction.

At the moment we do not say GCSEs are nothing, because we see them for what they are: a tool for going through and getting A-levels, which are a tool for going through and getting a degree. Yet we dismiss level 2 apprenticeships, seeing them as a nothing qualification, or a qualification that is not viewed very highly. In part, we dismiss the qualification because we do not see level 2 apprenticeships as the tool that gets someone to a level 3 apprenticeship, which is the tool to get to level 4. We know—I include myself in this—people are ready for education at different points in their lives, and perhaps the apprenticeship pathway model that I advocate takes a lot longer than the traditional path of going through GCSEs and A-levels. Perhaps it takes a lifetime, because someone might take a level 2 apprenticeship and then work for a couple of years. Then they do a level 3 apprenticeship and work another few years. Then they do a level 4 and so on and they find it takes 10 years, and then they end up with their degree apprenticeship at the end of it. We need that pathway to be clearly defined.

I have raised this before, so the Minister will be aware that Hull College and Hull University have worked together to create a pathway for nursing so that nurses can do apprenticeships. Hull College has told 16-year-olds, “You can start on a level 2 apprenticeship at Hull College. If you pass, within five or six years you will be a fully trained nurse with a degree in nursing from Hull University.” It has been clearly set out and the college has been inundated with people wanting to apply. Why can we not look at creating such clarity for many other professions? Why can we not say to someone, “You do not need to get GCSEs at 16 and then get A-levels to go and do a nursing degree. You can go down the apprenticeship route instead. If you want to get off the conveyor belt and just get a level 4 and be a healthcare assistant instead of an apprentice nurse, that’s fine, too, because you can pop back on that conveyor belt later and get your nursing degree apprenticeship.” That is exactly what happens in Germany, where they talk about having no dead ends, because there is always an option to move forward if people want.

I am a member of the Education Committee and we did a report called, “The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity”. That is what we need to have clarified by Government. I have significant concerns that we have so many young people doing a level 2 apprenticeship and they get stuck there; they do not move forward and do not progress. The Sutton Trust also found a lack of progression between the different levels of apprenticeship. A level 2 apprenticeship is not a full apprenticeship. It is a stepping stone, but not a full apprenticeship in its own right.

On the clarity of pathways, I will quote the Sutton Trust’s chief executive, who said,

“on the academic route...everything is signposted, you know the options, you get supported at transition points.”

In apprenticeships,

“there are lots of dead ends...there are pitfalls. Sometimes it is a very confusing route. I think we just need to almost map out steps.”

London South Bank University has also suggested that standards

“should include reference to the anticipated career trajectory of learners”.

We need that map, and it needs to come from Government. There are practical steps that they could take to achieve it.

The Government should mandate the Institute for Apprenticeships to include clear paths to progression within apprenticeship standards; those paths should be linked to a system of progression maps created and promoted by the institute and Government, with complete clarity on how to go from a level 2 apprenticeship to a degree, if someone wishes to. They should also create a UCAS-style website to advertise higher level apprenticeships, so that apprentices working in small and medium-sized enterprises will not be disadvantaged if their employer is unable to provide a higher-level apprenticeship. The Government should encourage and promote universities that have already established that clear apprenticeship pathway. Perhaps they should say something about doing a degree apprenticeship not being enough if everyone starting the course has A-levels.

I want people to get on to degree apprenticeships through the apprenticeship route. No one will ask, when someone has their degree, whether they did an apprenticeship degree or an academic degree. They will just be pleased that they have a degree. If we want parity of esteem, the Government need to do more to create that parity and improve clarity in pathways.

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South 3:21, 8 January 2019

I thank my hon. Friend Judith Cummins for securing this important and timely debate.

The future of our country depends on how well we are able to equip younger generations to face the challenges ahead. An effective apprenticeships and skills policy is crucial to closing the productivity gap and boosting our competitiveness globally. As we face critical questions about our trading relationships with the rest of the world post Brexit, it is important now more than ever to reflect on the skills we want the workforce of tomorrow to have. Sadly, eight years of Tory Government have been eight long years of failing to invest properly in young people. Members need not just take my word for it: at the last election, the Tories lagged 40 percentage points behind Labour among voters aged 18 to 24. That says it all. Young people know that they are being poorly prepared for a jobs market that is increasingly fragmented and insecure.

Small businesses also suffer as a result of inadequate education and training policy. Anyone with a background in business will know that having a skilled, well-trained workforce is indispensable to long-term success. However, research published by the Federation of Small Businesses suggests that too many small businesses are struggling to fill skilled jobs, with almost a third of recruiting firms facing skills shortages. In a report on England’s qualifications gap last year, the London School of Economics revealed that skilled trades comprise nearly half—43%—of all occupations reporting skill-shortage vacancies.

The apprenticeship levy is a welcome measure, but it only begins to address the scale of the problem. Measures must be taken to ensure that the levy funds apprenticeships of a high quality. Labour has proposed achieving that by requiring the Institute for Apprenticeships to report annually to the Secretary of State on the quality of outcomes of completed apprenticeships. In that way we can ensure that it delivers skilled workers for employers and real jobs for apprentices at the end of their training. Does the Minister support the proposals and, if not, will she clarify what measures the Government are taking to oversee the delivery of high-quality apprenticeships?

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 3:24, 8 January 2019

I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Judith Cummins on securing it.

As Members may be aware, the Scottish Government are responsible for apprenticeships and skills development policy in Scotland, but I will link my remarks to the UK. For young people who do not want to go into further or higher education, apprenticeships are a vital means to secure the skills and work experience needed in later life. As the economy continues to change, skills development opportunities become increasingly important for the reskilling and upskilling of workers. Therefore, it is vital that we get our policy on apprenticeships and skills development right, so that we cannot only help young people succeed, but encourage lifelong learning—something that I did through the trade union movement in the Post Office.

I was concerned about recent statistics about modern apprenticeships from Skills Development Scotland. Apprenticeships should be accessible to those who need them, but those statistics, covering the period April to September 2018, show that there are still issues to overcome. There is still a clear gap between men and women in the uptake of modern apprenticeships. In Scotland, only 35% of modern apprentices during the period in question were women. That is in direct contrast to the experience in England where in 2016-17 54% of apprenticeships were undertaken by women. In England, the number of apprenticeships started by women has been higher than the number started by men every year since 2010-11. Individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds were just 2.1% of modern apprentices in Scotland while the equivalent rate in England stood at 11.3%, in 2016-17.

We often hear of the difficulties that young people whose backgrounds involve experience of care have with educational attainment and securing employment. That is why it is particularly disheartening to me that just 1.7% of modern apprentices in Scotland come from such backgrounds. With 13% of modern apprentices self-identifying as having a disability or learning difficulty, it is clear that there is still much to do in Scotland to ensure that modern apprenticeships are accessible and that they reflect our country.

Skills Development Scotland has confirmed that achievement rates fell by 3% in quarter 2 of 2018 when compared with quarter 2 of 2017. Achievement rates have fallen for modern apprenticeships regardless of the participants’ age, but I am particularly concerned about the 4% drop among modern apprentices aged 16 to 19. Those young people are the future of our country, and we should not be letting them down in that way. Redundancies among modern apprentices were disproportionately concentrated in the construction sector, and made up 83% of all redundancies. It is particularly disappointing that there has been a fall in achievement rates given that there was an increase of more than 10,000 in the number of achievements in apprenticeships in England in 2016-17. In fact, it was the highest volume of achievements in any academic year. Because of the funding changes introduced by the UK Government, the number of apprenticeships started in England has started to fall. If the Scottish Government cannot tackle the issues relating to access and achievement, I fear that the number of apprenticeships in Scotland could suffer a similar decline.

In my area, North Lanarkshire, we have the second highest rate of modern apprenticeships in Scotland and almost 10% of all the female modern apprentices in Scotland, although there is still more progress to be made. I am proud of the fact that Labour-led North Lanarkshire Council’s modern apprenticeship programme offers a wide range of opportunities. Apprenticeships can be undertaken in areas ranging from community arts to social services, enabling young people to develop vital skills for a successful future. As a North Lanarkshire councillor and a Member of Parliament, I am proud of our modern apprenticeship programme and will continue to ensure that it delivers for young people in our community, and helps others across the whole UK.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation) 3:28, 8 January 2019

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Sir David, in the new year, chairing this very interesting and far-reaching debate, in which there have been widely differing views. I congratulate Judith Cummins on securing an important debate. I am a member of the Select Committee on Education. Many of the topics she discussed are close to my heart. I have learned very much from being on the Committee in the past three years about English education and about the differences within education.

There are huge differences between Scotland and England with regard to the ways in which modern apprentices are trained, and how apprenticeships work. In fact, when I was a further education lecturer at West Lothian College, I delivered programmes as part of modern apprenticeships, and it was always a delight when the college took on modern apprentices who went right through the programme and also picked up academic qualifications. Some also worked hard to gain a degree in their chosen subject.

It is always a pleasure to be part of people’s development, and the Scottish Government feel strongly about apprenticeships and skills development in Scotland. One of the first things that happened when Tata Steel was sold was the securing of apprentices by Dalzell Works in my constituency to ensure that they were able to continue and finish their apprenticeships. It is important that Scotland is seen as a world leader in that area, so let us ensure that the figures are correct. In 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18, the Scottish Government beat their own targets for apprenticeships. In England over the same period, apprenticeship targets fell, which is an absolute disgrace.

This morning the Education Committee took evidence from experts on the fourth industrial revolution. It is imperative across the UK that skills are fostered and encouraged so that we can meet the challenges of the future. I must give credit to Stephen Pound. I did not know anything about ornamental horticulture and landscaping, but he gave such an eloquent performance that I feel I must mention it as it I sum up the debate.

Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills in Scotland, stated:

“Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for all employers to invest in their workforce and provide the skills the economy needs now and in the future…We are continuing to enhance the apprenticeship opportunities available to provide the right balance of skills to meet the needs of employers and the economy, including prioritising higher skilled apprenticeships and STEM occupations.”

Some Members have mentioned schools. Last year I had the pleasure of attending a meeting at Dalziel High School in Motherwell along with the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney. Prizes were given to students who were doing work placements. Those placements were not just for one or two weeks a year—pupils went from that school every week to work with Morgan Stanley in Glasgow, or the engineering firm WorleyParsons, which does a lot of work in the energy sector in Scotland and across the UK. The enthusiasm and experience that those young people gained from that weekly commitment was outstanding, and they fed that back into the school. There is an ongoing programme between that school and education and industry trusts in Scotland, and they are all to be commended on their work.

I do not think anyone in this room underestimates the issues involved, but as Emma Hardy said, this is about parity of esteem. When, years ago, I did my teaching qualification in further education, I made a comparative study between vocational education in Scotland and in Germany, although because there was not yet a Scottish Parliament, it was really about UK-wide education. The lack of esteem, especially in a country such as Scotland whose engineers are renowned all over the world, given to people who worked with their hands was amazing. We still need to break down those barriers and show parents, students and pupils that there is a good future for them if they take on an apprenticeship. Indeed, last year I saw the enthusiasm and interest of apprentices at Gateshead College who were doing degree apprenticeships. The fact that they had to persuade their parents that it was a good idea to do those courses is testament to the work that still needs to be done.

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. I have learned a lot. I realise that many issues are still to be covered, so I will let Gordon Marsden sum up on behalf of the Labour party and ask hard questions of the Minister.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 3:34, 8 January 2019

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and if it is not too late, I wish you and everyone here a happy new year. We have had a superbly balanced and broad-ranging debate. We must thank my hon. Friend Judith Cummins not simply, as she put it, for making this a wide-ranging debate, but for her strong and important points. She gave a powerful critique of the current apprenticeship programme, and outlined the direction in which it needs to go to assist somewhere such as Bradford, which, as many have said, has a fantastic history but needs a powerful future as well.

I was impressed by the huge range of contributions from colleagues across the House. John Howell spoke about the importance of work placements. After a voyage around his witticisms, my hon. Friend Stephen Pound found more fertile ground in horticulture, for which we thank him. Lee Rowley rightly spoke about the need to look to the future and different sorts of skills, and showed an intelligent understanding of where the tensions are between such skill sets. My ever-forceful colleague, my hon. Friend Emma Hardy, talked about apprenticeship pathways to get to degree apprenticeships and spoke strongly about the importance of level 2 in terms of progression—I shall come to that later in my remarks.

My hon. Friend Faisal Rashid raised concerns about how the Government will have a lost generation if they do not properly prepare for apprenticeships, and said that the Institute for Apprenticeships should be focused on outcomes and be supported. My hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney spoke about the importance of ethnic minorities not missing out in Scotland, and he raised some significant concerns. Finally, Marion Fellows shared her experiences as a former FE tutor and lecturer and spoke about the need to promote modern apprenticeships. All those contributions have added to this debate.

We know that we are entering a period of extreme uncertainty regarding our skills base because of a cocktail of challenges: Brexit, automation—I take that point from the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire, which is why I said “challenge” rather than “problem”, but it nevertheless focuses our minds strongly—and the damage already done by the neglect of older as well as younger people in adult education, the dramatic fall in take-up by adult learners, and cuts to the adult skills budget. If we are now faced with the impending scenario of a no-deal Brexit, the need for home-grown skills is strengthened yet further.

Despite consistent warnings from ourselves, and the university and FE sectors, the Government have been neglectful of the impending damage—especially through the drift to no deal—that Brexit could cause to our world-class FE colleges and universities, and to skills as a whole. This is an issue for FE in particular, because of the deep engagement of community projects that are funded via the EU. Thousands of UK jobs, and tens of millions of pounds that the UK earns from our EU links with universities, further education colleges and training providers, are in jeopardy as a result. The Government need to get to grips urgently with spelling out how their shared prosperity fund will replace the funding from the European Social Fund and the Research Development Fund, on which our community-focused higher education institutions and colleges so rely.

What is the Department for Education doing—the Minister will have heard me speak about this before—to ensure that the needs of skills and apprenticeships are at the top table? Why have we seen so little proactivity? The Secretary of State seems to have thought that Erasmus was a second-level issue. That is what I have been told, but I hope the Minister will reassure us that it is not a second-level issue, because it is crucial to the skills processes that we need, whether in Bradford or Blackpool.

The already growing skills shortages in areas such as the health service are becoming catastrophic. We heard the national health service plans yesterday. That was all well and good, but the unanimous comment in the media has been about where the 100,000 extra jobs will come from. Where will those people come from if we do not have a progressive integrated policy? We have a Department—it is new year, so I will try to be charitable to the Minister—that is struggling with the consequences of nursing bursaries being scrapped. I entirely support the Royal College of Nursing’s campaign in this area, and have heard from constituents who have been seconded via the NHS to Blackpool hospital about some of their concerns. We have world-class colleges and providers, but they are being consistently let down by cuts to budgets and funding streams. Unfortunately, apart from the eventual money pledged for the introduction of T-levels, there has been no reversal to those damaging reductions made by the Government.

The Minister urged MPs and the sector to lobby before the Chancellor’s Budget. They did, but they got precisely nowhere. It is imperative that we use apprenticeships and our skills network to help people be trained, but we have to fund them properly. We are being told to look at the spending review, but as the former Minister David Willetts observed on Saturday, when talking about the Augar review, the chances at the moment of the Chancellor focusing his eye on education as opposed to the NHS appear to be minimal.

Fine words we have had plenty of, but they butter no parsnips. That is particularly important in smaller towns and cities, such as Bradford, Blackpool and many of the places that Members who have spoken today represent, the people of which feel that they have been let down. We hear rumours that the Augar recommendations will pin all hopes and money on the cut in university fees. I sincerely hope that the Minister, in whatever capacity she is able to, will raise her voice against the focus simply on higher education, to the detriment of further education.

One of the potential avenues that we need to explore to achieve all that is, of course, the devolved skills and adult education budget implications. There are clear opportunities via those new structures that could be utilised, and should be, if we are to have proper progression in the devolution of adult skills funding. We need a much bigger debate about the devolution of broader apprenticeships than we have had so far.

We need proper infrastructure and long-term thinking. The Government have been poleaxed by Brexit, and are looking only to scrape to 2020 in their funding and policies. While they do that, our new national education service will look at devolving apprenticeships and other skills funding, not just the adult education budget, and our lifelong learning commission will expose and explore new ways of collaborating on the ground with the third sector and the unions to get those skills up and running.

Skills devolution is not just a smart thing to do economically; it is the right thing to do for community growth and cohesion. If apprenticeships are to have strong, positive outcomes for local economies and workforces, far more young people need to get to the starting place to begin with. It is important to grasp the potential for high-quality apprenticeships in the service sector. As others have said, that means supporting our small and medium-sized enterprises and starts at level 2, and ensuring a properly funded and promoted traineeship programme.

We have been banging on about that to a succession of Government skills Ministers for two years; the current Minister is the third to hear me speak on it. The latest statistics from the Department for Education show a significant drop in level 2 apprenticeships—just 161,000 starts at level 2 in 2017, down from 260,000. The proportion of overall starts has fallen to its lowest level yet. As Mark Dawe of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said,

“major mistakes in the implementation of the levy have resulted in a serious undermining of the government’s social mobility agenda”.

He also said:

“Level two starts are now the biggest issue we face”.

I can only make reference to the briefing that Members have had from the British Hospitality Association about the importance of progression in that area from level 2 and onwards. Recently I was glad to welcome representatives of Stonegate to Parliament, and a person in my constituency who has gone from being a barperson to running the new refurbished Manchester hotel, which will be reopened shortly.

Level 2 apprenticeships have fallen, but we have seen a huge rise in management apprenticeships. I do not know what the real story is there. Does the Minister? Has the Government’s failure on level 2 been a market consequence of the way that they sold the levy? I do not know; perhaps the Minister can enlighten us. What we know from the Sutton Trust is that about a third of those apprenticeships are converting existing employees and skills. If that is the case, we are in an even more dire position than the Government’s figures show.

Anything that simply rebadges or validates normal training will not get us where we need to go. To create that step change we must ensure that people can get to the starting point, because level 3 is one of the most telling points for SMEs or self-employment. Whether someone is a hairdresser—I hope that the Minister has managed to get the Secretary of State off the unfortunate prejudices about hairdressing in his Battersea speech—a social care provider, a brickie, an electrician or a plumber, those are the people we need, and the skills that we need. Level 3 is a de facto licence to practise. That is why it is so important that the Government should not neglect traineeships.

There are issues regarding the overspend. The Minister knows that the Institute for Apprenticeship’s chief financial officer recently presented a forecast of a £500 million overspend. Can she tell us whether those figures are accurate? The Education Committee published an all-round critique of the Government’s apprenticeship record, and highlighted the importance of not only apprenticeships, but apprentices. That is a long-overdue priority for the Government. I know that the Minister agrees about the importance of world skills, skills competitions and skills champions. She has banged on about it, and it is very good that she has, but her Department has not always seemed to share the same enthusiasm for taking on board the opinions of apprentices. I urge her to do so, and to utilise the talents of the IfA’s panel.

That is the right way to promote the social mobility that we will need in the 2020s, when bespoke skills and enabling ones will have to combine in people’s lives with more traditional qualifications. We need to encourage young people to take up their curiosity for future jobs and apprenticeships at a much earlier age. We have been saying that for some time. It needs hardwiring into careers advice to go beyond the Baker clause and to have a sustained, holistic strategy.

The Government’s consistent failure to support under-represented groups, whether black, Asian and minority ethnic, people with disabilities or care leavers, has to be addressed. We would address it directly by giving it strong positioning in our new national education service. We have been very clear that if we are to get to the right position on T-levels, they cannot be seen simply as a competitor with A-levels. The Sainsbury review pointed in the right direction in that area, but unfortunately the Government have ignored that holistic approach and turned it into a beauty contest.

The concerns that we have heard today about regulations not being fulfilled in key new pathways—employers say they are not currently—and there not being the number of work placements illustrate the point. It is important that we get T-levels going properly, but they must be part of a broader strategy. That is the problem with so much of what the Government have told us. We are not short of potential “ladders of opportunity”, as the Minister’s predecessor, Robert Halfon, put it, but we now need more resources, simplifications and long-term strategies—not the short-term targets that have tied the Government in knots and led to the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South raised in this excellent debate.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education) 3:48, 8 January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under you today, Sir David. I wish all hon. Members a happy new year. I say to the shadow Minister that I do not feel tied up in knots.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

Not personally, certainly. I feel quite clear about what I am trying to achieve. I congratulate Judith Cummins on securing the debate. I wish I had more time; I do not. I will debate this matter weekly if that is what Members want, because there could be nothing more important for the productivity and success not just of this country, but of individuals.

I am incredibly fortunate in my job. I get to see so many young people who are passionate and incredibly enthusiastic about the careers that they get through apprenticeships. Their sense of enthusiasm strengthens my faith that we are on the right road. It tells us not only that the direction of travel is right and that parity of esteem between the academic and technical routes is achievable, but that apprenticeships open an alternative door that would not otherwise exist for people—often bright and very gifted young people, but also older people—for whom school and exams did not work.

T-levels and apprenticeships will form the basis of our new technical offer, building the skills of the population. They will be mirror images—one predominantly work-based and the other predominantly study-based, but both leading to skilled employment and opportunities for further study up to and beyond degree level, through apprenticeships or otherwise.

The hon. Member for Bradford South is absolutely right that Bradford is a great city, but 15% with no qualifications is quite a shocking figure in comparison with the national average. She raised the issue of apprenticeships not being worth the paper they were written on, but that was what sat behind all the reforms. We have brought in money from the levy, protected the term, mandated 20% off-the-job training and introduced end-point assessment.

The hon. Lady is right that apprenticeship starts are down, but this is not just about numbers; it is about quality. Before the reforms, a lot of people doing apprenticeships did not even know that they were on them. It was a way of bringing in cheap labour, and we wanted to change that. It is not surprising that the starts went down to begin with, because it was a very big change, but they are now rising, and that rise has been significant at level 4, level 5 and above. I urge the hon. Lady and her businesses in Bradford to contact the National Apprenticeship Service, which I know will be very happy to work with her and with businesses locally.

We are bringing non-levy paying small and medium-sized enterprises into the apprenticeship system. I assure the hon. Lady that I am working closely with the Federation of Small Businesses to ensure that we get it right for SMEs, which often find it quite difficult to navigate the new system. I point out that the money raised by the levy is available for redistribution to non-levy payers, so money raised through the levy in London might well end up being redistributed to smaller employers in Bradford, Hull or anywhere else in the country. From April, large levy payers will be able to transfer 25% of their levy pot without restriction, so Emma Hardy might like to have a word with hon. Members for London constituencies to see whether that money can be redistributed.

The hon. Member for Bradford South also mentioned the risk to workers from automation. Some 35% of jobs are set to go in the next 10 years, so the Chancellor has announced the national retraining scheme, a joint venture between the TUC, the CBI and the Government to ensure that we can upskill lower-skilled workers. We are doing much to ensure that this works, especially for workers who may have had a bad experience of education or for whom undertaking more training might cause practical as well as financial problems. We need to ensure that lower-skilled workers get the skills they need and that business gets them as well.

I am glad that my hon. Friend John Howell has lots of university degrees to make up for the fact that unfortunately I do not have any. He is right that schools play a critical role, but schools do not work for everyone, and apprenticeships are often a vital route for young and older people to get a second chance.

I praise the role of unionlearn, which I should have mentioned earlier and which often offers excellent in-work training. The Government give it quite a substantial amount of money, and it will be important to the national retraining scheme. I must also mention work experience, because the 45 to 60-day industry placement is a critical part of the new T-levels. The careers strategy has the Gatsby benchmarks at its heart, so that schools can measure their success. Meaningful encounters with the world of work are an important part of that, and the Careers and Enterprise Company is doing a great job of linking schools to local employers.

Doing a school exam or maths homework makes sense if students can see the jobs that will be out there when they leave school—otherwise it is just another exam or another boring class. For those going into a career in STEM, there is nothing not to like about apprenticeships, which give the skills and work experience needed. Some engineering companies have cut their graduate schemes and are now offering only apprenticeships at level 2 and up to level 3.

Stephen Pound made me smile, as he always does, and mentioned horticulture and landscaping. Only today, I saw some fantastic examples of the apprenticeships that the national parks are offering. I would be very happy to work with him and the all-party gardening and horticulture group. Landscaping is one of the disciplines tested at the WorldSkills competition, which I was privileged to see in Abu Dhabi. He might like to visit the WorldSkills website and see the amazing work of landscapers at the competition.

My hon. Friend Lee Rowley spoke about the skills gap, which the skills advisory panels will be looking at to give us a clearer picture. The reason why apprenticeships are getting such traction is that employers want more than just knowledge; they want skills as well. Many are moving away from graduate schemes, because a degree apprenticeship, for instance, combines both knowledge and skills.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

Yes, but briefly, because the hon. Gentleman is taking my time.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful. The Minister mentions the skills advisory panels; the reason why we need them is that in the previous Parliament the Government abolished the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Does the Minister regret that the commission is no longer there to give the Department a holistic view?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I do not have regrets. What matters is what we do next, and that we make sure we identify the skills we need. In case I do not have time later, let me note that the hon. Gentleman mentioned devolving skills budgets. In fact, skills budgets are devolved down to the lowest possible level: to local employers. Firms in Bradford and Hull—the levy payers—have the money at their disposal, and we will redistribute it to SMEs.

Time is short, and I do not have time to mention everything, but the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle mentioned nursing, a perfect example of the pathway for progression that I want to see from level 2 right up to level 6. In construction, an employer in Gosport has done a wonderful map that shows young people where they can progress—right up to project manager and beyond. When I was in Bristol, where a lot of work is being done on diversity in apprenticeships, I saw what looked like a tube map, where people can see where they can get on and off their route. Of course, people can go in other directions: they might well do a level 2 in business admin and then go into nursing or end up doing a level 6 in a completely different discipline. That is exactly the area that I want to concentrate on. I spent a lot of time getting business working with the levy and getting the system up and running, but now what matters to me is progression.

With respect to the drop in level 2 apprenticeships, which was mentioned earlier, we are not absolutely sure what is behind the figures. Some 90%[This section has been corrected on 9 January 2019, column 6MC — read correction] of starts are still at levels 2 and 3, and of course employment is high, but we need to dig deeper. What matters to me is the people I meet, like the young man I met who got chucked out of college twice, got a level 2 apprenticeship with Virgin Media, skipped level 3, did a level 4—

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I know—you have 30 seconds.

That young man skipped level 5 and is now doing a level 6. He said to me, “I am a miracle.” That is what this is about: giving people that second chance. I am sorry that I do not have time to say any more.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 3:59, 8 January 2019

I am really grateful to all hon. Members who took part in the debate. I agree with everybody who said that this is such an important subject and that we should concentrate much more on it, because it is about the future of our country, of our children and of our economy.

The Minister mentioned the national retraining scheme, a joint initiative with the TUC and the CBI. I look forward to seeing the details of that scheme, which will be really important.

When I said that some apprenticeships were not worth the paper they are written on, I did say “some”—I commented that I meant those apprenticeships with little or no training.

It is fantastic that we all agreed on the urgency of getting our skills policy right, to ensure that our economy delivers for everybody in all places. The jobs and skills mismatch is not down to individuals on the supply side. We have to stimulate and organise demand for skills through the Government empowering sectors and regions; it cannot just rest on the shoulders of individuals.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).