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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 3:24 pm, 8th 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.