Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
MP AND LORD
22 OCTOBER 2008
Q80 Chairman: Okay. Lord Young,
with your background, you would be familiar with the kind of people
that I am familiar with in my part of Yorkshire, who do an engineering
apprenticeshipa two, three or four-year apprenticeship,
which is very rigorous. When those people qualify, they are normally
hotly competed for by employers. Are you familiar with that?
Lord Young: Very much so. Yes.
You raise an important point when you talk about how we define
the apprenticeship, because of the contract with the employerwe
will not count them unless at the completion of their apprenticeship
they have a contract with an employer. There will be no dubiety
about the number of people in an apprenticeship programmewe
are quite clear about that.
Q81 Chairman: Let me continue
my understanding of a good apprenticeship. The good apprenticeship
is with an employer; it is pretty rigorous training. What is the
shortest time in which you can do an apprenticeship in this country,
Jim Knight: That depends. Given
that an apprenticeship is a bringing together of other qualifications
or modules of qualifications, you may have already completed some
of the qualifications necessary to qualify as an apprentice prior
to starting your apprenticeship training formally, in which case
you would be able to go through that training more quickly than
if you had to accumulate the whole thing. Clearly, having that
experience in the workplace is the fundamental thing that we have
been talking about. So, you are going to need to spend a reasonable
period of time doing that in order to be able to qualify. That
will be the thing that makes the difference.
Q82 Chairman: So, what is
the shortest time in which you can qualify as an apprentice in
any sector if leaving school at 16?
Lord Young: One thing that we
should think about, with where they start from, is that we are
talking about being employer-led, although there are blueprints,
so there is going to be some variation. I would need to consult.
Two years comes to mind, but whether it is possible to achieve
something in less than that, I would need to check.
Q83 Chairman: What does Jim
Jim Knight: I would really struggle
to be persuaded that anyone could do it in less than a year. There
may be circumstances in which you could do it in less than two
years, if you have sufficient
Q84 Chairman: There are some
figures floating around that say that the average length of an
apprenticeship is a year.
Jim Knight: Obviously, we can
let the Committee know if our understanding is different from
some of the reality, but in terms of getting that practical experience
and work experience, so much depends on what you have been doing
before going into the apprenticeship. In simple terms, I would
say that if you are doing less than a year, getting that detailed
understanding is something that we would struggle with.
Chairman: You have been passed a note,
Lord Young: Can we compromise
on 18 months? The apprenticeship you quoted, the engineering-type
apprenticeship, is one end of a scale. There is a rich variety
here. If in this country we want to drive up apprenticeships,
they have to be related to employer demandto their needswithin
these blueprints, which determine the criteria of quality. At
one end will be highly complex engineering, while at the other
end there will be completely different types of apprenticeship.
Q85 Chairman: Have you heard
of Gresham's law?
Lord Young: Yes. It is about the
amount of work expanding to fill the time available.
Q86 Chairman: Well, the Gresham's
law I know about is when someone adulterates the currency by melting
it down and adding something. Is that not a problem with apprenticeships?
You have not mentioned the families of children who might go into
apprenticeships. Surely, when we want to sell them the new expanded
apprenticeship programme, which is going to get bigger, they should
have some guarantee of quality at the heart of it?
Lord Young: That is where the
blueprint comes into it, along with the frameworks that are agreed
in consultation with employers, the Sector Skills Council, and,
at the moment, the Learning and Skills Council, which is going
to change. If you are talking about ensuring that we do not have
adulterated apprenticeships, I believe that we have quality controls.
Q87 Chairman: But in modern-speak,
we could talk about brands. We might have a brand that at one
end is a gold-plated and wonderful formal apprenticeship, and
at the other end is something in retail and distribution that
takes six months.
Lord Young: It would be more than
Q88 Chairman: More than six
months? So you cannot do any training that would grant you an
apprenticeship in six months?
Lord Young: Well, if you do not
mind me saying so, Chairman, you have one vision of an apprenticeship.
I remember this same debate taking place in British Telecom, where
there was an argument about whether there should be a two-year
or a three-year apprenticeship. When we moved to a three-year
apprenticeship, we were working for most of the time in that third
year. I do not think that it is the length of time that is important,
but what is required in order to learn the vocational skills and
all the other components that we talk about, such as acquiring
reasonable qualifications and so on. What are the requirements?
We are saying probably a figure of about 18 months, my officials
are telling me. I would not get hung up on saying that if it is
longer that must mean better.
Q89 Chairman: I never said
that. What I believe and what most people believe is that there
should be a minimum guarantee of qualitythat is what I
am trying to tease out.
Jim Knight: Clearly, quality is
absolutely essential, and we have to secure the esteem with which
this brandto use your wordis held by the public.
People do value apprenticeships very much, but in the end the
quality is measured by the employers themselves and it is the
employers who are designing the 180-odd apprenticeship frameworks
that we have in place, either directly or through the Sector Skills
Council. It is for the employer, while meeting our standard, which
we have set at quite a high level around the four things that
I set out for you earlier, to design things and look at what qualifications
will meet their quality standards. You have to bear it in mind
that apprenticeships are at Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4, so there
will be differences between the various levels, quite rightly.
That is why it is quite difficult for us to come up with a time,
because you have to account for prior attainment, different levels
and different settings. So to come up with a magic figure for
the amount of time that it takes in order to ensure quality is
Q90 Chairman: Okay. Lord Young,
would you not say that many people in this country believe that
an apprenticeship trains someone with a skill to do something
useful and gets them into a good way of employment?
Lord Young: Absolutely.
Q91 Chairman: At reasonable
Lord Young: Absolutely.
Q92 Chairman: Is it not something
of a confidence trick if you get the parents and a young person
to believe in going into an apprenticeship in retail and distribution,
for example, when some of our wealthiest, biggest and most successful
retailers pay on average £11,500 a year? Does it seem worth
doing an apprenticeship if you end up in that situation?
Lord Young: I think that is a
really interesting argument. The answer is yes, in my opinion.
Q93 Chairman: Could you live
on £11,500 a year?
Lord Young: I would not want to
live on that. Of course I would like to drive up pay.
Q94 Chairman: Many of my constituents
have no chance of a decent life because that is all they can earn,
even if they take an apprenticeship and work for one of our leading
companies. I could not live on £11,500, and I do not think
that you could.
Lord Young: I agree that I would
find it a challenge. Are we then saying that we would not recommend
that somebody go into that particular industry? I would recommend
that, despite the point you make. If we do not train people in
that industry, their chances of progressing anywhere are even
more limited. We are talking about creating life chances for people,
so notwithstanding the difficulties of the wages earned in that
industry, we must ask, "Do we enhance their life chances
and their skills, and do we make them more socially mobile by
putting them through an apprenticeship?" The answer is emphatically
Q95 Chairman: That is exactly
what I wanted you to tell me. In the argument made by the Minister
for Schools and Learners it is essential that there is an element
of progression. I can see progression in many of the apprenticeship
schemes, not just the gold-plated ones.
Lord Young: Whether it is hairdressing
Q96 Chairman: Yes, but what
the Bill gets to the heart of, and something that I must ask you
in searching terms, is whether there is a problem in that at one
end of the apprenticeship market you tend to devalue the currency
because the package is not strong enough and the security of employment
and the payment at the end are not sufficient.
Jim Knight: We made an important
announcement that we were raising the minimum wage, and from next
August the minimum apprenticeship wage will go up from £80
to £95 a week. Obviously, £95 a week is still a long
way off £11,500 a year, but it is important that we seek
to push up that wage in the same way that we have the national
minimum wage and the tax credit. We absolutely agree with where
you are coming from. However, in terms of increasing opportunities
for people, they are raising their general skill level even by
working in a low-paid industry such as retail or hairdressing,
which is a very popular apprenticeship for women. There is a gender
issue that informed our reasons for wanting to raise the minimum
apprenticeship wage. When I go round colleges talking to people
on apprenticeships, such as some women doing hairdressing apprenticeships
in Brighton last month, I find that many of them want to run their
own business. They need to acquire the necessary hairdressing
skills, so they do a Level 2 apprenticeship and then advance those
skills through a Level 3 apprenticeship, which includes some of
the skills that they need to run a business as well as those required
to cut hair and do other things that I do not understand because
I do not have much hair. That is their ambition, and that will
be their progression. New Look, the fashion retailer, is based
in my constituency. There is progression in that industry, either
towards running your own retail business or up through the company.
A member of my family started on the shop floor of Boots, doing
temporary Christmas work, and worked her way up to be a well-paid
HR professional in retail. There is progression in those industries,
but only on the basis of skill, and that is why it is important
to enhance skills through apprenticeships.
Chairman: Minister, I understand what
you say, but the background of the social structure of our country
is changing. Anyone who saw the recent "Newsnight" item
on Detroit will know that we face a great challenge as well-paid
manufacturing jobs disappear and are replaced by jobs in distribution
and retail which usually pay minimum wage-plus. That is a challenge
to the whole concept of what you are trying to achieve through
the Apprenticeships Bill, but I have had enough of berating you
about that. Let me bring in John.
Q97 Mr. Heppell: My apologiesI
have to leave early so the Chairman has allowed me to get in early.
As someone who went through a five-year, time-served, indentured
apprenticeship, I think that I have a little experience in these
matters, and your explanation of what a good apprenticeship should
be is probably as good as I have ever heard, but may I play devil's
advocate for a minute? My view is that people who acquire apprenticeships
will have greater opportunities in life. I know how much an apprenticeship
has helped meit has been a bedrock throughout my life.
You know that you always have something behind you, and that gives
you a sense of security, but people ask, "What is actually
going to be in the Bill?" I hear what you say about it being
symbolic, but if that is all it is, something is wrong. What is
it that you can do with the Bill that you cannot do without it?
Jim Knight: For me, the most important
thing is the apprenticeship guarantee. It is really important
that we put in place a driver. I do not know whether you have
taken evidence from the Learning and Skills Council about the
guarantee, but the LSC is not that comfortable, in many ways,
with the duty that is being placed on it, because it will be really
tough. However, it is an absolute driver on the LSC that the guarantee
will be in place by 2013. If we are to achieve our ambition of
one in five young people being in an apprenticeship by 2020, we
will have to get that guarantee in place. In the same way, we
can put duties on the LSC in respect of diplomasthere are
other examples of the way in which duties on public authorities
work. In the end, however, the LSC can be taken to court by a
young person if it has not delivered on its duty. In terms of
creating system changeraising the participation age will
create system change by engaging every young personthat
is crucial. That is the most important thing. Specifying standards
so that the frameworks reflect that is important, and that is
a good reason to legislate, but if you wanted the main thing,
I would say that it was the duty.
Chairman: Lord Young?
Lord Young: I was going to say
the entitlement plus the standards. The Chair pointed out that
we need to know precisely what we mean by an apprenticeship, and
we do not want to see the currency devalued. The entitlement,
plus defining exactly what we mean by an apprenticeship and what
it will give you are important. We all understand the need to
drive up the number of apprenticeships if we want to meet the
challenges set out in the Leitch report. If we really want to
give young peoplethose who might choose a less academic
route initiallya chance to progress in their lives, we
need something like the Apprenticeships Bill.
Mr. Heppell: I am not quite sure whether
it was my question or the Minister's answer, but we have managed
to empty the back of the room.
Chairman: I was warned that a group of
young people were coming briefly to look at our Committeeit
is nothing do with the Minister.
Q98 Mr. Heppell: What is the
Bill actually going to do? There has always been a demand for
apprenticeships from young people. People have always wanted to
go into them, and there has never been a time when they have not
been a popular choicethey certainly were when I was a young
lad, and I suspect that they are now. The real problem at the
moment is that there is clearly not enough demand from employers.
When I was young, as I have said before, it was very much the
public sector and the nationalised industriesbig companiesthat
offered the apprenticeships. The effects of that flowed into the
rest of the country, and the smaller firms picked up the skilled
people from those companies. What in the Bill will induce employers
to take on more apprentices?
Lord Young: It would not just
be a Bill that did that. We have a number of strategies, including
champions and apprenticeship ambassadors. We have the national
apprenticeship vacancy matching service, the idea being that we
will simplify the process of taking on apprentices for employers.
I do not think that legislation of itself will do that, but we
nevertheless see it as fundamental in enshrining rights and requirements.
You said that apprenticeships are popular, but we have two problems
in terms of hearts and minds. One is convincing employers that
apprenticeships are worth their while and that they do add value.
The apprenticeship image needs to be enhanced for young people
as well. When I asked my 18-year-old son why he did not choose
the vocational route rather than university, he answered, "Oh,
you are sort of second class. That is for the guys who can't hack
it." That is a totally wrong perspective. We have a job to
do with young people's perception of apprenticeships and with
employers' understanding of why it is important to the success
of their business.
Jim Knight: The demand side is
weak in some parts of the country. There is not an apprenticeship
culture in London and the south-east, for example. We need to
build on that and get it up to the strength of demand and the
culture around apprenticeships that we might have in the north-west.
More work needs to be done. Measures in the Bill help to achieve
that, such as clause 23 on information, advice and guidance to
young people. Clause 22 covers the national apprenticeship vacancy
matching service, which will work on both supply and demand, while
clause 21, which is crucial, is on securing sufficient apprenticeship
places to meet the guarantee. You are right that the big focus
needs to be on supply, particularly as we go into more difficult
economic times. We need to do more, especially in the public sector.
It needs to increase by half as much again to match the levels
of private sector apprenticeships. We have an event on the 27th
of this month when ministerial champions from each Department
responsible for developing apprenticeships within the sectors
for which they are accountable will come together with others
to work through how to deliver significant growth in public sector
apprenticeships. Clause 21 is important in that respect, as are
the opportunities for sector skills councils and employers to
bring forward frameworks in an easier, more coherent way under
clauses 7 to 10. Stimulating strong supply and demand are necessary,
and that is why we want to legislate.
Q99 Mr. Heppell: Lord Young
said, "We will not validate something as an apprenticeship
if, in the end, they are not in employment." That worried
me a bit, because it almost suggested that people could go through
a lot of training and then get a job a week or so before it was
time for their pension. I want to be reassured. The beauty of
apprenticeship for me was that people got both the theory and
the practice, but it was understanding how they meshed them together
that was important. For my apprenticeship, I did a year's block
release at college and went to work in the holidays. To be honest,
the theory was great but it was never relevant until I was actually
on the job and could do as much as I liked on the hydraulics.
We opened up an Anderson Boyes coal cutter, looked inside it and
the pipes did not mean a thing. We had to know how to match the
theoretical work with the practical work. People need to be in
work when they are in an apprenticeship. I want reassurance that
it will not be a case of people attending a training school before
getting a job.
Lord Young: There has to be proper
workplace experience, too. There will be a contract with an employer.
I was trying to distinguish it from programme-led apprenticeships
where there is not necessarily a contract with an employer. It
is not just a last-minute connection.
Jim Knight: Clause 16 through
to clause 20 of the Bill defines the apprenticeship agreement
as a contract between the learner and the employer.