Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Apprenticeships: SMEs — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:20 pm on 13th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Minister of State (Education) 2:20 pm, 13th February 2020

I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing the debate. I warmly welcome his keen interest in apprenticeships and am particularly grateful for his work to celebrate local apprenticeships last week, which, as he pointed out, was National Apprenticeship Week. I believe that he visited a number of his constituents, including those completing apprenticeships in companies such as KFC. As he kindly highlighted, last week was a fantastic opportunity to bring the whole apprenticeship community together and shine a spotlight on how amazing apprenticeships are for social mobility, for our economy and for moving people forward.

It is fantastic that more than 8,000 people in Slough alone have started an apprenticeship since 2010, and that is over a range of areas, ages and sectors within Slough’s community. The hon. Gentleman may also be aware of a Slough-based company called Resource Productions, an SME that does an excellent job working in the film industry, with clients such as Disney and Pixar. Dominique Unsworth is its CEO and also a Government SME apprenticeship ambassador. Her work is vital in order to connect more SMEs with apprenticeships. She has recognised just how important it is to employ apprentices and spread that message. I am pleased to note that, at Ms Unsworth’s request, the National Apprenticeship Service is hosting an event with Slough Aspire on 31 March. If I am still in post, I shall try to come along, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will also attend.

As was pointed out, this is the second debate on apprenticeships this week. The first focused on the effectiveness of the apprenticeship levy. We should not forget that the apprenticeship levy funds apprenticeships for employers of all sizes, including SMEs that do not pay the levy. The Government recognise the need to ensure that our programme delivers for employers of all sizes—I know that that point was laboured by the hon. Gentleman and by other hon. Members. For that reason, we are making changes to benefit small employers, so that they can get the most out of apprenticeships. In fact, last month, we began to transition small employers that do not pay the levy on to the digital programme, which was mentioned. I will promise to meet the hon. Member for Slough so that we can look at the portal together to address some of the issues that he raised.

We are providing additional funding that will allow up to 15,000 more starts in the first three months of this year with smaller employers. That marks the start of the transition of smaller employers to using the apprenticeship service, allowing us time to listen to their feedback and time for smaller employers to become more familiar with our approach. We have already seen them take advantage of that in relation to early years education, pharmacy work and so on. The change will give employers a real choice of high-quality training provision and the opportunity to become more engaged in the process, as not having that has been one of the criticisms to date. Smaller employers will have access to a larger pool of training providers to deliver training that meets their needs and supports growth in their sector. To ensure that the transition is as simple and easy as possible for employers, we have worked with SMEs to test the service and have engaged with a range of employers and providers, acting on their feedback and instigating improvements.

We recognise that SMEs provide many people with their first step on to the career ladder, and we want to ensure that neither younger people nor smaller employers are denied the opportunity to participate in apprenticeship schemes. That is precisely why we provide £1,000 to both employers and training providers if they take on somebody aged 16 to 18. We know that younger people can face additional challenges in starting and applying for apprenticeship schemes. Social mobility is something that I am particularly focused on ensuring that we do better on, as is driving up the number of young apprentices on schemes, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We also pay 100% of the cost of training for the smallest employers—those with fewer than 50 employees—for that age group. Last month, we extended the use of levy transfers to cover the full cost of training for 16 to 18-year-olds and for receiving employers with fewer than 50 employees, helping more small employers to support apprenticeship starts.

We are proud to have launched, in January, the third phase of our Fire It Up campaign, which is aimed at changing the way people think about apprenticeships by demonstrating that they are an aspirational choice for anyone with passion and energy, and that they can enable them to go so very far.

We are ensuring that the message of apprenticeships is being heard in schools. That was touched on in the debate earlier this week. The National Apprenticeship Service has developed Amazing Apprenticeships—a website and resource portal for schools and teachers. Meanwhile, our Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge project is ensuring that teachers can promote apprenticeships to their students and have information available.

Just like the hon. Gentleman, we want more people to be able to benefit from the positive changes that we have made to apprenticeships, and across sectors—a point raised by Mr Mahmood. I want to let him know that 200 of the 510 standards are for construction, engineering and manufacturing, and they have been designed in conjunction with businesses. That pool is growing all the time.