Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-39)


8 OCTOBER 2008

  Q20  Chairman: So what is the answer? What do the Departments do to sort that one out?

  Simon Bartley: I do not know whether the Department can sort that out. That issue has to be considered by the people in the field—the employers who take on these young people at various stages of their career—who will identify the most logical pathways. You must look at the purpose of the diploma and apprenticeship and understand the justification of an employer for taking on a young person, or the justification of a young person for taking it on. A diploma is an applied academic qualification. We are only three weeks into them—two weeks in some schools and colleges—and we need to understand more about them. Diplomas are designed not only to enthuse young people who have been let down by, bored by or have dropped out of the pure academic GCSE route, but to excite some of those people who have been successful at GCSEs and give them a taste of a different route through apprenticeships, foundation degrees or A-levels. I have had a small involvement in the construction and built environment diploma over the past three years. When we started, the issue of crossover from diplomas into apprenticeships was writ large in our brief about developing diplomas. It dropped off over those years because, first, it is a very difficult issue and, secondly, because getting the diploma bit right—perhaps it is a little bit siloed—was such an enormous task that there was not the time nor the inclination to work on it. If I can drop back to the Level 3 electrician where there is no Level 2, the apprenticeship builds on a whole series of theoretical ideas. All of you will remember from your schools that V equals IR, Ohm's law, the whole concept of currents and circuits and capacitors and so on. It is technical scientific stuff. An individual may have completed a diploma that is related not to engineering or construction, but health and social care. As there has been no deliberate attempt to tie the type of diploma to the type of apprenticeship, the person is not likely to come with that underpinning knowledge, or technical knowledge, that is required for them to become an electrician. Therefore, you might do a diploma at Level 2 or 3 but it will not actually match up with the information that is required for an apprenticeship. Just because you have a Level 2 diploma, it should not automatically mean that you have the knowledge of a Level 2 apprenticeship. They could be two completely different areas of expertise and underpinning knowledge. If you go to a public park, you can tell where people walk. It is not necessarily on the pathways that have been laid down by the local authority, but on the slightly muddy areas that cut across the corner from gate to gate that the local authority did not put in. You see the routes laid out by the individuals who are the users of the park, rather than the planners. We must be careful that the Departments do not try to put those paths in as pathways that will be there for the next 25 years. We need to spend a bit of time—perhaps not until they become muddy tracks, but at least until the grass is trodden down—on the routes that people want to take across the park. It is a little early in the process to draw definitive lines on the diploma to apprenticeship exchanges. It has to be done soon, but it is too soon to do it now.

  Andy Powell: I would do three things. I would ensure that our research includes the before and afters of why people go into apprenticeships in the first place. Also, we do not have any research or data on what has happened to previous apprentices. Have they stayed in that industry, have they been successful, where have they gone? That is something that the Skills Commission is now starting and that Edge is supporting. Based on that research—I like Simon's analogy very much—one is developing stories. We need to make very significant improvements to the information, advice and guidance to young people, so that they can access information from previous stories and the paths that people have trod before, such as why they took one route and what they learned from it. I will not go into it now, but we have done a lot of work on that. Such information should be available these days on websites, and there is a website called "Horse's Mouth". People should also be able to talk to others who have trodden those paths and ask them, "Why did you do a diploma? Why did you do an apprenticeship?" In summary, that second issue is really about getting that IAG around stories and what people have done. The third issue relates to policy; it is wider than apprenticeships. It is extremely important that we encourage—probably stronger than that; require, if possible—more opportunities for young people throughout their schooling to understand different worlds of work and what goes on in the world of work, to visit colleges and universities and to talk to apprentices. There is nothing more important for young people as they are going through education than that they start to find out for themselves, to discover and explore, what they are good at, what they are interested in and who they want to be. That lead-up and those stories would solve a lot of the problems associated with how those things interrelate.

  Chairman: Right, let us start to drill down on this.

  Q21  Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested in your path analogy, Simon, because I have been thinking about it in that way. Of the issues that are identified in world-class apprenticeships, the critical ones are about the planning and delivery system and employer engagement; those are the two that most worry me. I do not see anything in the Bill that requires transferability between different routes, and sufficient transparency to enable transferability. I spend my life telling local authorities, "Do not put a fence there because it will be pulled down. It just will, because it crosses a stampede path that people are always going to take." It will be great if we can find some stampede paths through these learning systems, because that means that people are using them, and that would be an important step. However, surely our job should be to make it easier to move between things—for example, to make it easier for a young person who has embarked on a diploma and who realises that they want to get into the world of work quickly to shift into an apprenticeship programme if possible. I am not sure that the Bill makes the kind of requirements that would ensure that.

  Simon Bartley: I think that you are right. From my reading of the Bill, no compulsion is in place. Let us not take my analogy of the paths too far. If we can, let us leave diplomas to one side as the modern thing, and just consider apprenticeships, O-levels and A-levels. Let us concentrate on the A-levels. Where are the transferable routes between A-levels and apprenticeships? My understanding is that if somebody gets to an AS-level—they have done one year of what I would refer to as sixth form—getting them to transfer over to an apprenticeship is likely to mean starting again at the beginning of the apprenticeship, because there will be no transfer route. There is no stampede route, to use your phrase, between A-levels and apprenticeships, so there is already a flaw in the programme. Perhaps that is why diplomas are so necessary for the future.

  I agree that there should be transparency and the ability for people to look at these things, but we must not forget the end purpose of an apprenticeship. The end purpose of an apprenticeship is to have a young person who is capable of taking up the craft and career of their choice. We have to be a little careful to make sure that in the provision of transparency or the development of the pathways—compulsory or voluntary—we do not actually devalue the quality, training or competencies of the individual at the end of the apprenticeship. If we are to have pathways from diplomas, A-levels or baccalaureates, or other areas into apprenticeships, we must ensure that they are facilitating the development of the young person in the apprenticeship, not sending them off on a path of false hope, such as, "At the end of this, I'll be an electrician, a plumber or a hairdresser, and I did it by doing half an A-level and half an apprenticeship", and having at the end of that somebody who is neither fish nor fowl. Let us make sure that they are able to do the job that the apprenticeship was set up to do. I agree that we need to put in some pathways. I was only suggesting that we must not stampede. Perhaps there is another way between the stampede path and the local authority path. After a little grass has been stepped down, we can put down some mats—so that the grass and the dirt are not trampled everywhere—that can be moved around so that the main courses of the path can be put in. We can set up a few tentative paths, after which we can see whether they work. If they do not work, we can just tweak them, rather than having to dig them up and put them in place.

  Nick Edwards: The Chairman asked whether the new requirement for young people to stay in schools until the age of 18 would help the growth of apprenticeships. I think that it is the other way round. Apprenticeships will help young people to stay at school and train until 16 to 18. A lot of young people whom we deal with are school sick. They want to leave school and go into the world of work. Putting them on an academic or on an applied learning programme in a school will not help them. They are ready to go out into the world of work. An apprenticeship is exactly the right programme for them. People learn quicker in the world of work than in colleges and schools. That is the truth.

  Q22  Fiona Mactaggart: The problem for so many young people is that they start a programme or an apprenticeship, but cannot find employers to take them on. Will the Bill help that problem?

  Nick Edwards: Well, what I did not see in the Bill which I saw in the previous document was the proposal for financial assistance for SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in respect of taking on apprenticeships. That detail has still not come through. We were encouraged when we saw that there were to be financial incentives. There are challenges for employers about taking young people in apprenticeships. Train to Gain, another competing programme, has not been mentioned. It will give an employer full Level 2. It is one of the new flexibilities. Young people with an existing full Level 2 will get an additional full Level 2 training programme free to the employer at the workplace much quicker than an apprenticeship. We must remember that a lot of our learners will have come out of school. They will not all be 16 to 18s. They will start apprenticeships when they are 18 or 19 years old. Under the present proposals, under the apprenticeship programme, apprenticeships will be co-funded with the employer. Up to 50% of the funding for an apprenticeship by 2010 will be borne by the employer. Under Train to Gain, they can get the Level 2 qualification and first Level 3 qualification free, and that can be done quicker. We are already beginning to see by our recruitment numbers that employers are beginning to switch from apprenticeships to Train to Gain.

  Andy Powell: Going back to the first point about pathways, we put in our written submission that one of the biggest flaws in the Bill, for example, is that, at the moment if students did Level 2 GCSE, or when the diplomas come in, they would be ineligible to do a Level 2 apprenticeship. That is unhelpful. It is quite legitimate to do GCSEs and start a construction apprenticeship. So I think that there is a move there, although I am caricaturing slightly, as all learning involves a bit of theory in practice. The diplomas are concerned much more with education and keeping your options open, and, as Simon said, apprenticeships are more concerned with the training side. On the whole, one would not encourage someone to do an apprenticeship unless they had some understanding of the relevant craft, trade, industry or occupation, and a desire to do it.

  With regard to the employers—arguably the biggest issue at present—the Bill could do more. Some of that cannot be put in the Bill, but it does mention the public sector, which is very helpful. The Secretary of State might be required to at least set targets for the number of apprenticeships in the public sector, whether that is through national Government, local government, the NHS or indeed in schools, where we have some great examples. The Bill could give more support to small firms, which might take the form of incentives, although I have yet to read anywhere exactly what the best form of incentive would be for small firms, so that is a difficult issue. Similarly, the Secretary of State could be asked to encourage and support the development of group apprenticeship schemes or group training associations. In Australia, for example, 10% of all apprentices go through that way. How do you overcome the problem of apprentices being taken on by small firms that might not be able to offer the breadth of experience or might have down times? Essentially, an organisation could be set up to employ the apprentices and be linked to many smaller firms so that the apprentices could go from one to another. We are currently exploring that idea in London with Robin Shreeve, the head of City of Westminster College.

  Q23  Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested in group apprenticeships. I represent Slough, which has a diverse economy and many big employers, yet I receive letters from mothers in my constituency stating, for example, that their son has written 95 letters but cannot find an employer who will take him on. In trying to drill down on that problem, it seems to me that the issue in part is that people do not understand it and do not want the bother of it. However, some employers work in very specialist areas, such as plumbers who work with air conditioning, and do not have the range of stuff that would be required in a course and so cannot offer apprenticeships. I do not know why that is more of a problem now, but it does not seem to have been such a problem historically. How can the Government, through the Bill, enable that kind of marriage brokering between the air conditioning guy and the guy who will do some CORGI-registered plumbing and put them together so that you could give a young person the experience they require to become a fully qualified plumber through a proper apprenticeship scheme?

  Simon Bartley: That is a really good question, and the group training schemes that Andy mentioned are part of the answer. You have to look at what trade associations or trade groupings there might be. I do not know the details about Slough, but there are likely to be 30, 40 or 50 plumbing companies. Some will be individual sole traders, some will be partnerships, some will work in the black economy, some will be in small businesses, and there might be a franchised outlet such as Pimlico Plumbers. The only body that is likely to take on apprentices on the industry side will be a trade association or a licensing body, such as CORGI, the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors or the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association. They might be able to do something along the lines that Andy has mentioned. Another suggestion for solving the problem that you have identified might be to use a supply chain. One of the things that you rightly pointed out is that the work done by a plumber today is much narrower than that done by a plumber 50 years ago. Part of the reason for that is the way in which buildings are purchased, as a main contractor, a management contractor or a public-private partnership contractor—whatever happens to be this week's type of contractor—buys in specific services, and therefore a small business almost has to specialise in order to do the work. Once you specialise, that is great; you can turn out the best person in the world at putting lead joints between old-fashioned pipes and modern pipes. That person could win a skills competition. As you have rightly identified, the difficulty is that someone down the road is an expert at doing only plastic piping. That is the case until you get them to realise that they exist and do it. A building—take this building, Portcullis House—will have required all of those specialist skills. It is possible that each has been carried out by a different contractor. The main contractor who was in charge of putting this building together may have said to one, "You are only good at doing that so we will use you for that." and to another, "You are only good at doing that so we will use you for that." Why on earth should he not have said, "If you both bring an apprentice, we will ensure that all the plumbing apprentices experience working with the others, paid for by their own employer"? That microcosm raises the issue of supply-chain management, which has been raised in other things that we have talked about. May I pick up on one of the reasons why employers do not take on apprentices? About 18 months ago, we questioned employers in the building services sector informally. We did an unusual thing, which was not to ask people who were training why they were doing so, but to find people who were not training and ask them why they were not training. Quite a lot of information gathering forgets to do that. It is more difficult to do because in most cases you do not know where such people are. The primary reason that small employers gave us for not taking on apprentices in electrics and plumbing to Level 3 was continuity of work. By making a commitment to take on a 16 or 17-year-old under an apprenticeship agreement of the type that is referred to in the Bill, you are saying that you will continue their skills training for three and a half years until they become a craftsman or woman. Most small businesses in the plumbing and electrical industries pay their labour force on a weekly basis. The main responsibility for the owner is getting in enough money for the work that he did last week to pay the people who are doing the work this week and finding the work for them to do the week after. While there is that mentality, it is difficult to ask someone to take on a three-and-a-half-year commitment to a young person. The average size of a plumbing practice in this country is four members of staff. If there are only two, three or four plumbers and there is no work in two weeks' time, who do you think will be the first person to be got rid of? Unless they are the owner's son or daughter, it will be the apprentice. Bureaucracy is an issue in receiving the finance of £1,000 for completion. That comes into the equation, but the single biggest reason that came out for employers not taking people on was the lack of continuity of work. Crack that one and we can move forward.

  Andy Powell: I would go back to urge you to consider a clause in the Bill that asks the Secretary of State to encourage and support group apprenticeship schemes. That would go down to the national apprenticeship service. I have been given information about models. I have already read about them because we are supporting one in London that is designed to solve precisely this issue. Various models have worked here and in Australia. As always, the issue is with financing. In effect, you have another intermediary and the question is how that business model works. If I was in charge—if the Secretary of State had that obligation, and through him the NAS, you would expect it to put some seed corn down and really understand the matter. It should work out which models work and support the development of new models so that this idea can take place. From our point of view, the idea of some sort of group scheme is very important. When an apprentice's work has been completed and there is no new job, they could then go back to the organisation in charge of the group apprenticeship scheme and go off to do other work.

  Q24  Mr. Carswell: I have a few general questions. The foreword to the draft Bill talks about apprenticeships having existed for hundreds of years. It then goes on to talk about the Government plans; the Government plan this and the Government plan that. It is very much a Government-driven thing. Apprenticeships, surely, have not been run by the state for that long and history tells us that it is quite possible to have apprenticeships without central Government running it. Is that not the case?

  Simon Bartley: Yes. I could not possibly tell you when the Government started to fund apprenticeships. I go back only to the days of the industrial training boards, of which very few are left. There was Government funding for them, but you would have to ask somebody what happened before that. Yes, I am willing to bet that in Victorian times and the time of Brunel building the steam ships there were apprentices working and learning how to rivet steel and do all the rest of it. I am pretty sure that there would not have been any money coming from the Government to pay them, but there may have been a larger amount of money within the procurement and the costing of those sort of projects. I think there is a more recent example of individual employers taking on or doing training, if not a formal apprenticeship. As I said earlier, we have been pursuing the issue of adult apprenticeships for a number of years now—certainly 10 years—and there is some evidence to show that employers have taken on 25 or 35-year-olds and trained them in a partnership. They have perhaps given the person some time to go to college at their own cost, or doing it elsewhere and paying the college fees. There is no Government money going into that. So, employers have been prepared to do that, and so have mature individuals. All I would say is that it has been a small number and it is the only case I can point to.

  Nick Edwards: Well, the Government were not involved until the apprenticeship scheme completely imploded in the previous recession. Employers got out of training because they were looking at their bottom line and cutting their costs. The Government had to intervene to relaunch apprenticeships. It is interesting that we talk about the previous apprenticeship scheme as being almost pre-war. That is because these are not the same animal at all. The apprenticeship scheme was designed by an employer for the skills need of that business. The skills apprentices often learned were not transferable to another business. They were part of the business plan and had an impact on their bottom line. It was the way businesses worked; apprentices were used as cheap labour initially, while they acquired skills. It was part of the financial plan. The Government had to take up apprenticeships because they had gone to waste. There was a national outcry about where young people were going to acquire these skills and where they were going to be supported. There is a big issue about employers. Employers do not at the moment see it as their social responsibility to provide training for young people. They are running businesses which need to employ people and need to be effective businesses. Apprenticeships are the only qualifications that are impacted by the national and local economy. Trying to grow apprenticeships in the current economic circumstances will be really challenging. Already at our college, our apprenticeship numbers are down because businesses are slimming down and cutting costs in construction. They are not carrying people. Diplomas, A-levels and degrees are not impacted by the economy. Immediately the economy downturns, it will have an impact on apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will dry up again, particularly in the industrial sectors.

  Q25  Mr. Carswell: So it is theoretically conceivable that it could be done, whether you like the idea or not, without central Government doing it?

  Nick Edwards: I do not think I said that.

  Andy Powell: At one level it depends what you mean by an apprenticeship. Actually, that style of learning always has been and always will be one of the most powerful forms of learning, whether you are a new MP or whatever. It is learning from people who are more experienced. I suggest that you are asking what is the appropriate level of Government interference in this process. I believe that history would tell you that there are two key roles. First, if you want significant numbers of young people to learn in this way and have this path to success—which I think is important—it is probably unlikely to happen without some stimulation from Government. Secondly, history shows that while there will be very good employers, others will exploit young people. They will not get the breadth of training that allows them to then go on to other careers. I am in favour not of strong Government or central planning but of stimulation and quality control. It seems to me that there does need to be a role for the state.

  Q26  Mr. Carswell: Mr. Edwards, I notice that you have had an involvement with VT, Vosper Thornycroft. Can you envisage a system in which the apprenticeship scheme might be run by Vosper Thornycroft—by an employer rather than by central Government?

  Nick Edwards: The arm of Vosper Thornycroft that runs apprenticeships is its education arm. It is a managing agent, a training provider like we are, although we are funded centrally. Vosper Thornycroft is very successful in delivering apprenticeships. It delivers them totally in the workplace and they are aligned to its own main contracts, because it is one of the biggest naval engineering employers in the country and trains up all the Navy's engineers and so on. It is successful, and I do not think that it is a matter of either/or. Some programmes can be delivered exclusively in the workplace, but in others the employer will need a college or private training provider to assist it in delivering the programme. A lot of employers would find it really challenging to deliver the technical certificate themselves. Vosper Thornycroft can do it, but a lot of employers would find that challenging and would need the assistance of another training organisation to do it with them. All employers can deliver the competences in the workplace, as long as they understand their responsibility to have a training manager or training co-ordinator in the workplace. That is another issue for employers—they see that as another responsibility. Under the apprenticeship agreement, they have a responsibility to put the opportunities of the competences in front of the learner. Sometimes employers will say, "Actually, I can't organise that, I can't co-ordinate that. If I do take someone off work to do that, it's going to be a cost to me," and so on. Those are challenges for employers. Sometimes colleges and training providers can step in and help them with that.

  Q27  Mr. Carswell: The success of apprenticeships is surely not purely the statistics on the number of apprentices produced but, in a sense, their desirability to the labour market and to future employers. Our documents state: "The Association of Learning Providers say that very few employers directly recruit apprentices". If the scheme were run differently, by employers, might that not change? Might it not, almost by definition, become more successful?

  Nick Edwards: What I understand by that statement by the ALP is that we have a lot of employers for whom having apprentices is part of their business plan. They become plumbers' mates or young trainees in an organisation and can add value to the employer by undertaking tasks. When they complete their apprenticeship, the employer does not have a commitment to offering that person a full-time job. That is quite positive, actually, because if they did, they would block the route for the next apprentice coming through. They look to move that apprentice on to apply for a job and get employment in the sector. What I can say is that all the apprentices at our college who complete, who have been on a training programme with an employer, get work. They secure employment. The product is good, and when employers know that someone has completed an apprenticeship, they know exactly what that person has done and what skills they have, and that they are very employable. Actually, the idea that employers hold apprentices for their lifetime is wrong. They enable them to move on and form a vacancy for the next cohort of apprentices coming to an employer.

  Simon Bartley: If I may elaborate on that, I used to run an electrical contracting business. We used to take on a dozen apprentices a year. At the end of the three and a half years, assuming we were down to 10 of those 12, we would probably want to keep six of those 10 to be our electricians. For four of those who had done our apprenticeship, we would have felt that we had done our job. They were not particularly good—they achieved the grade, but we did not think of them as future foreman material or whatever, and we wanted them to go. They always wanted to stay, by the way, but we tended to want them to go. Of the remaining six, we wanted to keep all of them but half of them would have decided to go off and do something else. That might have been to set up their own business, go and work with their uncle who put them into the apprenticeship in the first place or whatever. We would probably end up keeping three of the original 12, and they would carry on working with us and become our job runners, our foremen, our engineers of the future. If all 10 had stayed, or even all six whom we had wanted to stay, we would have had the capacity for enormous growth from a human resources point of view, but we would not actually have had the capacity for the organisation to grow at that pace in order for that to happen. What Nick said is borne out by reality in the workplace.

  Q28  Mr. Carswell: Just to finish off, I am curious about UK Skills. Could you elaborate on its status? Where do you get your money from?

  Simon Bartley: UK Skills gets about 80% of its money from either central Government or Government agencies such as learning and skills councils, and 20% from sponsorship either from voluntary or private organisations.

  Q29  Mr. Carswell: What is its status?

  Simon Bartley: We are a completely independent company. We are not a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB). We are an organisation set up to champion vocational education, which we do through competitions and award systems. We are in the middle of the national training awards, which we perform, organise and arrange on behalf of the Secretary of State; they are paid for by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The skills competitions that we run within the United Kingdom pull together Euro Skills Team UK and WorldSkills UK. Some of the funding for the local competitions comes from the Government and some of it comes from Edge, which sponsors Team UK and Squad UK for Calgary and London. In 2011, UK Skills will host the WorldSkills competition at ExCel. More than 50% of the money for that will come from the private or grant-making sectors, and the other half will come from the Government.

  Andy Powell: As you know, apprenticeships are not run by Government; the learning frameworks are decided by employers through various associations and so forth. The employer employs the apprentice and, with different training providers, ensures that they get the learning. I would like to add one important thing about the role of the state. If there is one thing that I would keep an eye on, it would be targets. In other words, if we are all to live happily ever after—if you agree that far more people get great training and employers want them and all the rest of it—this is about public relations, brand promotion, equality and encouraging people to do it with certain stimuli. That is in direct tension with a target-driven mentality. If things are too driven by targets that say, for instance, that we must have 190,000 completions and so forth, you will inevitably see a new form or declining quality of apprenticeship. They should be driven by quality and the brand on a voluntary basis.

  Q30  Mr. Pelling: Very briefly, this is about trying to rebuild after the devastation of apprenticeships in the 1980s. What can be done in the Bill to ensure that the process is simple enough so that employers can tap into apprenticeships? The great frustration that is always expressed by employers is that they have a tremendous skills shortage in X or Y, but that it is not catered for and it is not understood by Government that there is a particular skills shortage. How can it be kept simple so that employers can take best advantage of what the Government are trying to do?

  Nick Edwards: I support what Andrew just said, and what Fiona Mactaggart said earlier. The idea of the group apprenticeship is a positive one, because it does the heavy lifting for the small employer. It sorts out all the personnel issues and takes responsibility for managing the learner in terms of them getting their completion. The complexity of the responsibilities involved in the apprenticeship programme, which the current apprenticeship agreement places on small and medium-sized enterprises, puts off many employers. A group apprenticeship system would take on those responsibilities for small and medium-sized employers and would give them confidence. They would be hiring someone. They understand about hiring staff, which is what they would be doing. They would hire an apprentice and other people would take responsibility for the heavy lifting.

  Simon Bartley: Keep it simple.

  Chairman: I have to say that, as someone who has visited the VT apprenticeship scheme and met the apprentices in Portsmouth, VT does not like being called by its old name. However, it runs a very good apprenticeship programme. I want to move on to look specifically at 16 to 18 apprenticeships.

  Q31  Mr. Heppell: In some respects, the talk about apprenticeships is driven by the Government's wish for people to participate in education or training up to the age of 18. In the report, the Secretary of State says, "In the coming years, we want apprenticeships to be seen alongside university as a great option for young people." Is there that demand from young people? You have said before that this should not be driven by targets. What evidence do we have of the demand for apprenticeships from young people? Can that be quantified? How many people could you get into apprenticeships if the resources were there? I find this difficult because there is a lot of doubt about the figures on who would want to be an apprentice and who would not.

  Nick Edwards: We have a much greater demand for apprenticeships than we can supply. The problem is being able to offer employed places. There was concern that the money allocated to apprenticeships in London last year was vastly underspent.

  Chairman: Could you repeat that?

  Nick Edwards: The money that was allocated for apprenticeship programmes in London by the Learning and Skills Council last year was vastly underspent. That was not because young people did not want to do them or because training providers did not want to provide them, but because they could not find the employed places. On whether young people want to do apprenticeships, the apprenticeship is a clear product. Parents understand that if you go to university, you get a degree. They also understand an apprenticeship. It is different with sectors such as NVQs, City and Guilds qualifications and BTEC nationals. The apprenticeship is a clear product that is aspirational for families. People like to say that their son or daughter is on an apprenticeship or that their son or daughter is going to university to do a degree. It has that kind of aspiration and kudos for people. The problem of getting the employed places for young people is causing the blockage. There is demand from parents, young people and the training providers that deliver apprenticeships.

  Andy Powell: May I come in? I am sure that I will have to correct the figures when the transcript comes. There are three points. First, there was a pilot in Hampshire with a new matching scheme. That is the only place that I know of where the figures were taken for a while in a geographical area. Something like 25,000 young people wanted to do an apprenticeship and asked for a placement and there were only 6,000 or 9,000 places[1]. A significant number of young people wanted apprenticeships compared with the number of places. The other area for which we have data is for big companies, although that is a little artificial. It is harder to get an apprenticeship with some of the big, well-known firms—BT, for example—than to get into Oxbridge. There are data that show this. Secondly, looking at it the other way round, there is strong evidence that shows in all sorts of ways that young people are looking for something other than straight classroom learning and are disillusioned with learning. That leads to my third point—which I would like to make strongly—about young apprenticeships. Young apprenticeships are for 14 to 16-year-olds and have been running for four years. The apprentices go to work or to training providers for two days a week and there is a requirement of 50 days in work. I have been speaking to a lot of young apprentices recently and there was also a recent Ofsted inspection. There is no question but that the young people in the Ofsted report and the ones that I spoke to in Barnsley last Friday find it enormously helpful. They are motivated by it. Importantly, in their words, they are treated with respect and they grow in maturity. They also think that the apprenticeships help them when they go back to school to do their GCSEs at the same time. It would be good if you could consider whether all young people should have an entitlement to do a young apprenticeship under the Bill. I spoke to people who had been to five different companies as part of their experience. Young apprentices also learn what they do not want to do, which is important. They may find that baking is not for them, when they had thought that it was. The more that employers get involved in education, the more the demand from employers will increase. The employers I spoke to loved it. If they get an experience of school it will lead to a demand for full apprenticeships later.

  Simon Bartley: May I just add to that? There is a national training provider in the electrical and plumbing industry called JTL. It does not like being called by its full original name either. It would be able to give you the exact figures which would be somewhere in this order: of every 100 people who express an interest in becoming an electrician, about 50 would drop by the wayside by not completing the application process. Of the remaining 50, only 20 would pass the carefully designed test to see whether they would be capable of doing the technical certificate and progressing to Level 3. They would not start on an apprenticeship with the idea of failing, but of those 20, only one or two would be offered places by employers. JTL could give you the exact figures, and ConstructionSkills has done a piece of work relatively recently that looked at the numbers of people who were applying to do an apprenticeship. There is a difference between an apprenticeship and an advanced apprenticeship in the construction industry and the number of places available. So there are some statistics and they vary across regions and industries, but I think all three of us would agree that many young people would express an interest in doing an apprenticeship but they might not all be capable of doing it. Notwithstanding that, the shortage is of employers taking them on. Understanding that is probably part of the way to resolve the problem that we have over take-up.

  Q32  Mr. Heppell: Specifically on the skills bit, I see that it is said that there should not be any minimum requirements because there are not enough people with the qualifications needed at that stage. I worry that a large group in society, who will not have the necessary qualifications at the specific time when they want to become an apprentice, will get frozen out of the system. They are the very people whom it is difficult to get into meaningful employment and involved in society in the first place. Are you sure that the idea of minimum qualifications is right?

  Simon Bartley: In the electrical industry the only reason for having a minimum qualification is because the timing, the funding and the facilities of employers and colleges to teach people who are unable to read and write after leaving school are just not there. As an employer—as I was—of electrical contractors, my requirements when taking on apprentices over a three and a half year programme were pretty low. I was talking about three GCSEs, one of which should be a science and one of which would be maths. If they showed great potential I might even waive that. But when I asked them what 12 divided by five was, and they could not do that at the age of 16, I began to wonder how they would be able to do differential equations as part of the requirements of voltage calculations in an apprenticeship. So, we either have to change the quality of the people coming in at the bottom, or we have to decide whether we want electricians to be craftsmen or just better trained electrical labourers.

  Nick Edwards: I would like young people to be able to leave school at 14, but to come to college. At the moment, 500 learners aged 14 to 16 come to us to study for vocational qualifications for two days a week. But they have to go back to school for the other three days. These are young people who the schools know will not get five GCSEs A to C, which is the gold ticket to get into the sixth form, which is the gold ticket to go to university. These people have to wait and mark time for two years until they can leave school at 16. A lot of these young people would be better placed going into vocational training much earlier and being able to go to colleges and begin to get the skills to enable them to access apprenticeships much earlier. A lot of the issues around school attendance arise from young people no longer seeing the relevance of the programmes they are on. It does work for a substantial majority of them, but there is a substantial minority for whom schools cease to work and have relevance. Those people should be able to make choices about vocational careers and training at a much earlier age.

  Q33  Chairman: Does the Bill deliver that option, in your view?

  Nick Edwards: No, it does not.

  Q34  Chairman: So you would like us to consider that?

  Nick Edwards: It is an issue, and it has been—it came out of Tomlinson—of when people get connected with their vocation in the personal sense: their vocation in terms of their skills and attitudes being mirrored in a career opportunity, and of not having to wait till 16 or to have failed something before they start something constructive. That is the measure when they leave at 16—what they have not achieved, not what they have achieved—for that particular cohort of young people: "You did not get five GCSEs A to C."

  Q35  Mr. Heppell: Following on from that, the draft Bill says that those who want an apprenticeship must register for two sectors. I am an ex-apprentice. At one stage in my career, I had to choose—well, it was not just me; I was supposed to make a choice, but they decided in the end—whether I would do mechanical or electrical. I can sort of understand that, but the idea of picking two sectors—saying, "Okay, I might end up an engineer or a cook"—seems strange. Does that seem sensible to you?

  Nick Edwards: No. The groundwork should be done before. People should have introductory experience in different vocational pathways so that they can make realistic choices about where their skills, aptitude and motivation are, not try it out on an apprenticeship. If you are saying one or two—

  Q36  Chairman: But you can see the rationale. As you have been talking, I have been thinking. I am keen that the public sector—health, education and local authorities, which are the biggest employers in most places—should have apprenticeships. I know of areas less diverse than mine or Fiona's where the choice of apprenticeships is limited. There might not be options. If someone says that they only want to be an engineering apprentice, that may not be deliverable in a considerable area. Are not the two choices aimed at doing something about that?

  Simon Bartley: I think that you choose a great example to illustrate your point: engineering or being a cook. If the two sectors are construction or the built environment, there is not a problem. I suspect that in some of Barry's cases it is likewise. I have a bigger problem with an issue that comes up under the two sectors: if a young person will identify two sectors, and the NAS will find an employer in order to get them an apprenticeship within one of those two sectors, where is the demand drive by employers to ensure that that happens? It will also happen within a geographical area. Take the north-west. I do not know whether any of you are from the north-west; my apologies. In the north-west, if the two sectors that a young person is interested in are construction and the built environment and the sector skills councils for construction and the built environment identify that there is no requirement for further plumbers, electricians, bricklayers or scaffolders in those two sectors, how on earth can the NAS be mandated to find a job within the geographical travelling distance of a 19-year-old person? The sector approach, including what Nick has said, is an interesting one, but it brings a whole host of problems which might be about flooding local markets with individuals such as Fiona mentioned, who indicated to her that there were no jobs for them at the end of the apprenticeship. We could get back to Lord Tebbit's "On your bike" if we wanted to extend the conversation.

  Andy Powell: As soon as you have entitlement, you have very real challenges and compromises to make. One sector or two sectors, it is linked to what I think the Bill says is a reasonable travel time. What is reasonable if someone lives in a rural area and wants to do certain apprenticeships, and that is their passion? It might be 50 miles. Is that reasonable or not? Those are all very real challenges in the Bill. You are saying that every young person is entitled to something that can only come if employers want them.

  Q37  Mr. Heppell: I have one final question. I probably take a very different view with regard to the public sector than Douglas does. You have seen that a theme runs through his questions which is very much a case of, "What the hell have we got a Government for, as we do not even need one?" When I was an apprentice, nationalised industries and the big companies did the apprenticeships. Smaller companies probably also did apprenticeships, but if my memory serves me correctly, people tended to migrate from those big companies and the nationalised industries to fill the jobs in industry. The way I read it, the nationalised companies provided the training and skills for the rest of the country so that the UK benefited in the end. Some of the big companies still run apprenticeship schemes, although not as many as there were. With privatisation, there has been a drain on that and we are trying to rebuild apprenticeships in some respect. If you are not talking about targets, what can you do to ensure that more apprenticeships are available through the public sector so that they can feed out and help the private sector?

  Andy Powell: As well as targets, it is like anything else: you make them so damned good that people want them. That includes high quality and sophisticated promotion and communication so that people really understand what apprenticeships are and what the potential is, because they currently do not. That is very important, and we do not do enough of it. At the end of the day, you have to work and make it so good that young people and their parents really want them to do an apprenticeship, and we should remember that in the public sector that can be anything from hairdressing to social care or horticulture. On the side of the employers, I recently saw an employer get up and speak at one of our events for getting businesses more involved in schools and say that he used to spend £100,000 a year on recruitment but now spends nothing because he has apprentices and works with local schools and colleges and all the people want to come to them.

  Nick Edwards: I think that there is an opportunity in that respect, which the Bill hints at, whereby organisations rather than sectors can develop apprenticeships, so that the sector skills councils will not necessarily develop all of the apprenticeships. Where local authorities can develop their own apprenticeship schemes that are relevant to their local needs and businesses, I think that you could get growth in the private sector. The John Lewis training scheme is as good as any retail apprenticeship scheme and so should become such a scheme. When Marks and Spencer can deliver its training programme as an apprenticeship you will begin to have growth in apprenticeships. The Bill hints that organisations will have the opportunity to develop their own apprenticeship schemes that are local to their business and local to their environment, and that is a real opportunity.

  Q38  Chairman: Simon, I am surprised that you have not mentioned the guild system, because you are a lightmonger, are you not?

  Simon Bartley: I am.

  Chairman: People used to have to pay an employer to become an apprentice, and that was for seven years.

  Q39  Mr. Carswell: Those guilds were early trade unions, were they not?

  Simon Bartley: They are also restricted practices, so thank you, Barry, for bringing that up.

1   Note by witness: The correct figures compiled from feedback from the piloted Apprenticeships Matching Service returned numbers of 17,000 young people wanted to do an apprenticeship but there were only 6,000 places. (House of Lords, Apprenticeship: Recent Developments, Third Report of the Economic Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, HL Paper 137, Q9Back

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