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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:05 pm on 8th January 2019.

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

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.