UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1082-i

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

DRAFT APPRENTICESHIPS BILL

 

SIMON BARTLEY, NICK EDWARDS and ANDY POWELL

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 65

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 8 October 2008

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Mr. Douglas Carswell

Mr. David Chaytor

Mr. John Heppell

Fiona Mactaggart

Mr. Andrew Pelling

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Simon Bartley, Chief Executive, UK Skills, Nick Edwards, Vice-Principal, Learning and Skills, Lewisham College, and Andy Powell, Chief Executive, Edge Foundation, gave evidence.

 

Q1 Chairman: I welcome our three witnesses to our deliberations.

We are conducting part of a pre-legislative inquiry into the draft Apprenticeships Bill. As everyone knows, this is part of a pre-legislative inquiry across the two Departments. The majority of it, in territory terms, is a Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills responsibility, so I suspect that the lead role has been with DIUS, but we are certainly taking our part seriously, particularly in the areas of 16-to-18 apprenticeships and their career implications. That is what this sitting is about.

Simon, what was your reaction when you heard about the Bill? We have had apprenticeships in this country for a long time. They chunter along pretty well, and have increased substantially over the past nine or 10 years. Why do we need the Bill?

Simon Bartley: Thank you very much. My first impression when I heard about the Bill was a positive one. I felt that it was more evidence that apprenticeships and vocational education were at the top of the agenda, or rising to the top of the agenda. So I welcomed it, and carried on welcoming it thereafter. You are right: it is rather nice that somebody has given some credit that apprenticeships have been around for 400 years, and if I put my sector skills council hat on, covering plumbing, I think that they go back to Roman times, if not before. So it is rather nice to hear that apprenticeships have a long life and are worthwhile continuing.

The problem that we have had with apprenticeships in the areas that I have been involved in has been the reluctance of employers to place all their apprentice eggs in the one basket of 16-year-old school leavers. We have been working on persuading the Government to have adult apprentices, so I saw this as a move in the right direction, towards widening the franchise of apprenticeships, so that employers in particular could get more of what they wanted, from different places, rather than from where they were being told was the only place to get it.

 

Q2 Chairman: Andy Powell, is there anything that you would like to say to the Committee?

Andy Powell: Briefly, I have a strong belief that apprenticeships and that form of learning and development for young people are a good thing. The aspiration that we should, over the next 10 years, build that up to 20% of young people doing them seems absolutely sensible. Therefore, a Bill that strengthens that is, I think, not a bad thing. The challenge of the Bill for me is that the key things lie around it. So the advice and guidance given to young people are important, but so are what leads up to an apprenticeship and where people go on from being an apprentice. In those sort of areas, I have some suggestions of where the Bill is more difficult to support, but I am in support of the concept.

 

Q3 Chairman: What is the view from your vantage point in the FE sector, Nick?

Nick Edwards: We welcomed the Bill coming forward. We understood that there was a commitment from the Government towards apprenticeships, but the Bill begins to give some actual leverage to delivering those apprenticeships. It will give some momentum. It also assigns responsibilities, which I think is very important to deliver the targets that the Government want.

 

Q4 Chairman: How many apprenticeships are there at the moment, Simon?

Simon Bartley: One hundred and eighty thousand a year, I think.

 

Q5 Chairman: That is a substantial increase, is it not?

Simon Bartley: It is a substantial increase, over the last three or four years, from 60,000 or 70,000. The actual figures are at the beginning of the Bill, I think, in the foreword: 180,000 in 2006-07, up from 65,000 in 1996-so an increase over 10 years.

I think that the important thing in the foreword is the number of completions. There is a real issue about the non-completion of apprenticeships. In some sectors-such as plumbing, or electrical contracting or wiring-partially qualified individuals entering the labour market, who may be two years through a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship, are actually a risk to themselves and to the customers they are working for. Also, by their very dropping out of apprenticeships and not completing, they make employers less likely to want to take on another apprentice. If you are small employer and you take on one apprentice a year, and one in two of them does not finish, eventually you are going to think, "Why do I put all my effort into this training?" The important thing is the completion figure-up from 40,000 to 112,000, broadly in proportion with what happens elsewhere.

The Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network worked on some of the earlier figures and the earlier papers and Bills that have gone through Parliament, and with the target of 400,000 that came out in Leitch for England-500,000, I think, for the whole of the United Kingdom-which is, or was until very recently, a realistic target for apprenticeships and something to be welcomed. The work in this Bill of having older individuals-16, 17, 18, perhaps 19-year-olds-starting apprenticeships with a guarantee helps achieve that target, which I think is a good one.

 

Q6 Chairman: I do not know whether a lot of people have a memory of what an apprenticeship looked like. What does the apprenticeship look like today? Bring the Committee up to date. How long is an apprenticeship, for example?

Simon Bartley: That is a long question, which could take the whole of our time. Briefly, there are apprenticeships to level 2 and to level 3, so the difference in timing for each of those is considerable. In different sectors, of course, they tend to be different, depending on the framework. I can build on the ones in electrical contracting, which I know. In the production of an electrician, there is no level 2 apprenticeship, because there is no job there for someone in the electrical industry. The electrical industry wants fully qualified electricians, and they come with a level 3 qualification. So there is not a level 2; people pass through where a level 2 would have been at 12 months.

 

Q7 Chairman: How long is the overall apprenticeship in that sector?

Simon Bartley: About three and a half years. It is not dependent on time-so the idea of a time-served apprenticeship, which is the historical type of apprenticeship, has gone. An apprenticeship is gained by gaining a technical certificate at level 3, followed by the NVQ at level 3. It is the NVQ-the time spent at the workplace doing it-that takes the bulk of the three and a half years. At the end of that, there is an achievement measurement test, which is a practical test to ensure that the time spent on site is not just time served but has achieved the occupational standard required for the craft of being an electrician. That is pretty standard across most craft apprenticeships.

 

Q8Chairman: Yes, but you are talking about craft apprenticeships-the model that most of us are familiar with.

Andy Powell, how does that compare with apprenticeships in other areas like retail or distribution or leisure and tourism?

Andy Powell: The only thing that I can say in response, though I cannot give the detail, is that they can be very different. The length of time that apprentices serve can depend on the individual, as Simon says, but also, on average, it can vary quite significantly between, for example, engineering on one end, which takes more like four years, and some of the others, such as customer service or retail, which can be quite short.

 

Q9Chairman: How short?

Andy Powell: I would have to check this, but I would have thought around a year in some cases. Most level 2 apprentices take about 12 to 18 months, but it is nearer 12 months or even shorter in some cases. Level 3 apprentices take between a year and a half and two and a half years on average.

Nick Edwards: We would expect to get retail, business admin and IT apprentices at level 2 through in 12 months if they have the appropriate work experience and can evidence the competencies in the workplace. That is what our funding is based on as well.

There is the concept of timely completions. The LSC has a view of how long an apprenticeship should take. Level 3 would take two to three years, but we would be looking to try to get them through in two years if they have already done level 2.

 

Q10Chairman: Why, when I inquired what was the average length of an apprenticeship, was I told it was one year? There must be some pretty short apprenticeships if the average is one year.

Nick Edwards: It depends where the starting point is for the learner. For a level 2, it would be one year. That is what we are funded for. For level 3, it depends on experience-what level the person is coming in and what knowledge they have of the industry. Remember that people in employment can undertake apprenticeships, as well as people new to the industry. Some people at level 3 would already have substantial experience in the workplace and would then take a level 3 apprenticeship that would fast track them through quite quickly, because they can evidence the competencies in the workplace.

 

Q11Chairman: I want to press you a little bit more on these very short apprenticeships, especially the shortest-hairdressing or child care. Are there apprenticeships in hairdressing?

Nick Edwards: There are apprenticeships in hairdressing, yes.

 

Q12Chairman: How many?

Nick Edwards: I am not aware of how many there are.

 

Q13Chairman: Does anybody know? Can you give us any idea of what the numbers are? Are the bulk of our craft apprenticeships at the moment taking three or three and half years, or are the bulk very short?

Simon Bartley: I am drawing on memory here and I might, when the transcript arrives, suggest an accurate change, but I would think that three quarters of apprenticeships are at level 2 and that no more than a quarter of apprenticeships are at level 3-in other words, advanced apprenticeships. A lot depends on the requirements of the occupational standard that is going to be met by the apprenticeship, and of course, those occupational standards are slightly dependent on what the employers in a particular industry want the apprentice to have learned.

There is meant to be some parity between the occupational standard in hairdressing at level 3 and the occupational standard of an electrician or plumber at level 3. It is very difficult to compare exactly. You would need to talk to a QCA or an LSC expert on those. But I would be surprised if an advanced apprenticeship in plumbing-other than through the accreditation of prior learning that Nick has just mentioned-or an advanced apprenticeship in hairdressing took significantly different lengths of time. It might be two and half to three and half years or two and half to five years, but I cannot believe that the average length of a level 3 apprenticeship or a level 2 apprenticeship combined number would be 12 months, because that would mean that some were being pushed through in two or three months, and there is not that number of candidates with accreditation of prior learning work experience to justify that.

The Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network can probably give you more accurate figures more rapidly than I can.

Nick Edwards: When people enter the workplace, it is often through a more informal apprenticeship. You often get someone, say from hairdressing, who will say that they have left school and they have been taken on as an apprentice. They are not a part of the formal apprenticeship scheme. They are on low pay, doing low-skilled jobs in a hairdressing salon, gradually picking up skills. Then they will apply to a college or training provider to do a formal apprenticeship. They have already learnt a considerable amount of skills in the workplace. Those people will achieve quicker.

You will then get other people who will leave school and go straight on to an apprenticeship-like a hairdressing apprenticeship. They then have to do all the underpinning knowledge, because they do not have the knowledge of the industry and so on, and they will take longer. That is one of the beauties of the apprenticeship scheme-it is customised to the individual's learning needs and to their experience of the workplace.

Andy Powell: Having said that, if we try to hover up a bit from this and say, "How do we increase the quantity and quality of apprenticeships?", the overall brand and quality is very important. That is one thing. The two other things are, depending on which way you look at it, demand and supply-demand by employers for young people and the supply of good young people coming in.

The point that you raise, Chairman, is important. But overall, the increase in the completion rate is very significant and commendable, and that quality has made a big difference. If you look at the statistics-I do not have the details in front of me-and at the length of that apprenticeship and the time spent on some sort of formal training that goes with it, there are still a few sectors with areas that should be probed a bit more. But that is not the biggest issue here anymore; the demand from employers is a bigger issue. The challenge is that it rightly varies very considerably between sectors, and you need someone from that sector to understand. There are a few sectors where there is a need for probing to find whether the quality is still there, but I would suggest that quality is not, overall, the biggest issue at the moment.

 

Q14 Chairman: What is the biggest issue?

Andy Powell: I think that it is the supply and demand. At this particular point in time, all the evidence suggests that the biggest issue is how we encourage employers to take on more young people. There are issues on the supply side as well.

 

Q15 Chairman: We will be coming back to that later, when we shall be asking what is the nature of an apprenticeship based in college and what is the nature of a more traditional one, based with an employer? But we will hold that back for other colleagues.

Can I just push you on the aspiration for 20%? If we are going to have 20% of people keen to enter apprenticeships, which is something that I have always supported, it is right that the quality has got to be there and that the brand has got to be right, so that the parents of young apprentices will have the comfort of knowing that this is a good qualification that leads them into a good way of work. Do we agree on that?

Simon Bartley: Absolutely.

 

Q16 Chairman: Is this new apprenticeship linked to the fact that the Government are at the same time going to raise the school leaving age to 18? Do you see this as a very important part of that development?

Nick Edwards: Yes, I do. I have mentioned before that people can leave school at 16 at the moment and say that they are in training, but they are not; they are on low pay and working and picking up skills in the workplace without any formal qualifications. That has now stopped. They can go to the workplace at 16, but they will have to be on a formal training programme, gaining qualifications that recognise the skills that they have got. That is a really positive advance.

Also, if the apprenticeships become part of the portfolio on offer for secondary school children at 16 to 18, you will probably start to make the numbers you want. At the moment, it is not a part of the portfolio. The IAG in schools does not offer children that. There are many reasons for that. The diplomas have come in, and they are beginning to confuse the issue for young people and parents as to when you are getting engaged with the world of work and the skills for work.

Most of the secondary school sector is now under Building Schools for the Future. There are new buildings, which are fantastic, but a lot of the schools have premised them on additional student numbers in terms of their resources. Secondary schools are looking to hold on to their learners. For a lot of learners, a secure environment, like a secondary school, is the right place to be, and they are being offered the diploma route. For a lot of learners, beginning to engage in the world of work supported by college and other training provider programmes is the appropriate route, and they are not necessarily getting that through IAG. It is the point that Andy alluded to: this is an excellent product. Parents like this product and recognise what it is, and young people like it. At both ends, the supply chain is the problem in getting people into the apprenticeship programme and securing employment opportunities at the other end. The product is good and the Bill has good initiatives, but the devil is in the detail of how they will pull this off.

 

Q17 Chairman: Andy, any comments?

Andy Powell: Again, relating to the continuing or leaving age, I think that they are mainly different things. The most important thing for the Government, and across Parliament, is that a message goes out to everyone that there are many paths to success for young people. It is not about parity of esteem between a work-based route, a mixed route or an academic route; it is about parity of resource and recognition, and that is the fundamental message that we must get across. As you know, I strongly support the importance of getting parents and all young people to understand those different routes even from a young age. However, extending the leaving age applies primarily, as I recall, to that 9 and 11%-I cannot remember which way round, but it is those not in education, employment and training, and those in employment but not in training. That is a different issue. Most young people want to learn and get on and it is about providing highly motivational and relevant ways of people learning. There is obviously a link, but I do not see that it is a strong connection, if I understood the question correctly.

 

Q18 Chairman: So do you not see it as a coherent set of policies coming from the Government Department? On the one hand, there is the raising of the leaving age for education and learning to 18 and the new diplomas, and this new Apprenticeships Bill. Is this a joined up piece of policy or is it not?

Andy Powell: Potentially. Where the issue still arises is in how a diploma relates to an apprenticeship, for example. I do know think we quite know yet.

 

Q19 Chairman: Do none of you know? Diplomas have started, and we have apprenticeships. Do any of you know how they join up?

Andy Powell: You can certainly transfer-perhaps I will look to my colleagues on this. You can do a level 2 diploma and transfer to an apprenticeship. Indeed, you will need to make that available in the Bill, going from a level 2-whether that is a GCSE or a diploma-to do a level 2 apprenticeship. That is legitimate, and at the moment it is blocked in the Bill.

I have a precise point to make, and then I will ask some of my colleagues who might know the detail better. The area that I always think is missing and that we are not yet sure about-this tries to put it in the language of any parent or employer; I, for example, have a 16-year-old boy-is when and why should I encourage my lad to do GCSEs and go on to A-levels? When should I suggest a diploma route? In theory, that mixture of theory and practice is excellent and would suit him very well. When should I put him in an apprenticeship? Similarly, for an employer, under what conditions and when and why might it be beneficial to employ someone on an apprenticeship who carries on learning that way, and when should they take someone who has done the diploma or A-levels, or a graduate? In the education and training world, we tend to get stuck on what exactly an apprentice and a completion rate are. This is simply a route of learning where people start beforehand and go on afterwards. We must understand that better in general layman's terms.

Nick Edwards: I think that you are asking for a challenging amount of coherence of diplomas and apprenticeships. In terms of diplomas, you would ask, which Government target are they aimed at hitting? I suggest that they are hitting the HE target and encouraging more people to go to HE and vocational HE programmes, rather than hitting an apprenticeship target. The concept of transferability from diplomas is challenging. Somebody who has done a level 2 construction diploma could not transfer to a level 3 construction apprenticeship-they would need to go back and do a level 2 construction apprenticeship. The level 2 construction apprenticeship is a vocational training programme training people with skills for the workplace, which the diploma does not do. It is not a vocational programme; it is applied learning. That is a real challenge. You have products running alongside each other. If professionals in the sector cannot resolve that, then the customers-the parents and the young people-will not necessarily be able to resolve it themselves, either.

 

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 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 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 who 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-governmental organisation. 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. Forgive me, but the figure is that 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. 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 Mr. Heppell: 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 also restricted practices, so thank you, Barry, for bringing that up.

 

Q40 Chairman: Do you anticipate a large number of banking apprenticeships imminently?

Simon Bartley: That was a point that I was going to make, as we should not forget that some of the City of London guilds are still the examination boards for qualifications. The spectacle makers is one such guild, but there are others that do superb training. Most of them train in smallish numbers and cannot get any Government money because of the bureaucracy involved. With regard to the public sector, I would like to mention two areas. There is a bit of the public sector called the armed services, which are really good at training apprentices. If you go to the Army engineers at Chatham or to the Navy, you will see that over the past 10 years or so the military training has been interfaced with technical training and has an output in the private or non-military sector when individuals leave the services, and that offers an example. The Army did it because it was embarrassed by the fact that one in five people sleeping rough on the streets of London tonight used to be in the Army: they went in with nothing and came out with nothing. The civil service, both centrally and locally, could pick up some ideas from that example. If you can train an apprentice as an electrician in the Army, in the current circumstances, perhaps we can learn from some other departments that are not included here.

Very briefly, we talk about young people as apprentices or non-apprentices, but lots of them went into training that was not an apprenticeship or a degree. That has changed. Two examples are nurses and teachers. In the very recent past, both nurses and teachers tended to get qualified by training schemes in hospitals, which were not necessarily tied in to getting a degree at university. In both cases, lessons can be learned. When we talk about IAG-I have said this before in Barry's hearing-I wonder whether every teacher who gives IAG has a degree but not an NVQ.

Chairman: We have to give David a chance to come in now.

 

Q41 Mr. Chaytor: May I pursue the point that John raised about the economic changes? To what extent will the attempt to revive a national apprenticeship system run up against the rocks of the nature of the changes to the economy over the past 25 years and beyond? There is a world of difference between an economy that was dominated by large employers, traditional manufacturing industries and a strong public nationalised industry sector, which, in reality, took on most of the apprenticeships when we had a viable system between them in the post-war period, and today's economy which is-or was until a couple of days ago-dominated by financial services, retail and, until recently, housing and construction and personal services. I cannot see a cat in hell's chance of fully establishing an apprenticeship system if we assume the main providers of apprenticeships will be the small businesses that dominate today's economy.

Simon, you gave an example earlier of the construction industry. The typical small business involved in plumbing, electrics or construction is operating on a pretty hand-to-mouth basis. Companies form and decline. Migrant labour comes in and takes some of the work. The whole structure is so much more deregulated now. How can small businesses plan and afford to take on apprentices when there is not the economic stability and certainty that there was in 1950s Britain? I suppose that that is the nub of my question.

Chairman: Andy, you start.

Andy Powell: Yes is the answer. That is why apprenticeships have to change. There have been changes not only in the nature of the industry sector but elsewhere. A while back, people had a job for life. Therefore, going back to Douglas Carswell's point, it was much more understandable for employers to voluntarily take on people because they would be there for life. When we are all expecting at least seven different occupations, let alone jobs, in life, you have to do things differently. At the end of the day, this is about a form of learning which always has been and always will be one of the most powerful ways of learning as it comes from experts and combines theory and practice. Therefore, I would be optimistic, but we have to be innovative and consider ways in which we can cope with the new system. Hence, we have group apprenticeship schemes. In the public sector, one of the employers that won an award for the work they did with us was a school. They allow 10 young people who leave with not ideal GCSEs to come back as apprentices. There are apprentices in IT who sort out all the IT for the school and mentor young people. However, that involves having things such as group apprenticeship schemes and more flexibility in the apprenticeship framework while maintaining quality and other such things.

 

Q42 Mr. Chaytor: Would it not be preferable to establish in the legislation the group apprenticeship model as the default position for small employers rather than try to flog a dead horse in persuading thousands and thousands of small employers who are operating on the margins to take on apprenticeships? Would it not be better to say, "This is not on, let us establish a group apprenticeship model to serve the small business sector?"

Chairman: I am watching the time-

Andy Powell: I do not know. I would not be convinced by that, but I will pass it on to the plumber where I live. He is a one-person outfit, he has an apprentice, and he may take on another when the business expands. It is a wonderful thing and he believes in it. It is always about choice, making it easier, encouraging and providing support for people to have these new ideas, but at the end of the day, the employer should decide. Some of them will like that close bond, and it is their future.

Simon Bartley: I will just pick up on that point and then answer your query. I would like to think about it. My gut feeling is to ensure that if it is the default, it does not exclude an individual doing it themselves, as in Andy's example. A lot of small businesses will train an apprentice, and it will be the son or the daughter of the person who runs the small business. Cut that out, and you lose 100,000 apprenticeships instantly.

In the last 25 years, in the electrical and building services industry, most of the big companies, which were the old electricity boards, were privatised and stopped training, as did most of the big companies. Look at the top 10 electrical and mechanical contractors in the country and they do not train-NG Bailey is a fine example of bucking that trend. Small businesses have never really trained in proportion to the number of them that there are. Some have done it but the bulk never has. The real core in my sector of apprentices has always been mid-sized family businesses. I suspect that all of you know from your constituencies that mid-sized family businesses are increasingly a thing of the past. Fewer people pass on their business to their son or daughter; they keep the money, play golf with it, invest it in their children's houses. Whatever it is, mid-sized businesses are collapsing around everything we do. If you do that, there is no reason that those businesses will ever invest in training labour to help their son or daughter in the next generation. We have a real other issue along with the things that we have talked about.

I go back to procurement, self-employment and the death of mid-sized businesses training, because it is easy to go to an agency and get an electrician for two weeks. Finally, and this is not an anti-immigration comment, it is much easier to find a Polish plumber to come and work with you for three weeks because you have a blip on the number of houses that you have to do, than it is to take on somebody for three and a half years and train them. There is an issue there that must be addressed if we talk about why people are not taking on apprentices.

Nick Edwards: The point is a very real one. There is a real challenge at the moment in the construction industry where the majority of our apprenticeships lie. The major construction companies do not take on apprenticeships. There is an anecdote that only 14 apprentices were employed on Wembley stadium because companies were on complete time penalties-they were not going to carry people. You can either do it by coercion with the large companies through public sector contracts requiring people to take apprentices, or you do it through financial incentives for the small companies.

In the construction industry, most of the apprenticeships at our place come from white van construction business-the small person who is building extensions, refurbishing houses and so on. That is disappearing. The way people finance such businesses is through remortgaging their houses. The remortgaging business is going and instantly we have seen people stopping taking on apprentices because they do not want to carry any extra load.

From my position of delivering apprenticeships, the college does very well. We get paid very well to deliver apprenticeships and the employer should also be reimbursed for their training part of the apprenticeship programme. If they saw an impact on the bottom line, they would walk towards it.

 

Q43 Chairman: You are a big employer in Lewisham, how many apprentices do you and Ruth have?

Nick Edwards: Two hundred and fifty.

Q44 Chairman: That you employ directly, you train?

Nick Edwards: Yes, we train.

 

Q45 Chairman: Is that typical of an FE college?

Nick Edwards: In London it is, but in the midlands and the north you will have colleges with 2,000.

 

Q46 Chairman: This is a different question. How many people do you train for your institution?

Nick Edwards: For our own institution we have 32.

Chairman: Even that is quite extraordinary, is it not? I hear what you say, but at least two of you have been in meetings with me in the Skills Commission where Chris Humphries will always say, "Don't get carried away by SMEs." However much you love them, the real employers, the bulk employers are still the big players. We are in danger of getting this out of proportion. The big players in most of our constituencies are the universities, local government, the health authorities. They are the places where we have to look for apprenticeships, if they are going to expand.

 

Q47 Mr. Chaytor: Your apprenticeships, Nick-the 250-are what are called programme-led apprenticeships?

Nick Edwards: They are people who come to us to do the technical certificate. We contract with them and they are in the workplace. They come as individuals, they already have work and their employer is sending them to us to do an apprenticeship programme.

 

Q48 Mr. Chaytor: Right, so how is that different from a programme-led apprenticeship? Are there still such things?

Nick Edwards: There are programme-led apprenticeships and we also do those. We take young people and give them the skills to make themselves useful in the workplace before they go out into employment, because, actually, the employer wants people who are partially skilled and who have industry knowledge already. That is programme-led. There will be people who have already secured employment within a particular vocational area, and the employer will send them to us to get them up-skilled and put them on an apprenticeship programme.

 

Q49 Mr. Chaytor: But in the context of an economy that is facing a downturn, particularly in construction, over the next two or three years certainly, do you see the programme-led apprenticeship model as being more valuable? Is that the only way that the numbers will be delivered?

Nick Edwards: No, because in the end, although you can start off with a programme-led apprenticeship, the individual has to get employment to get the apprenticeship. Otherwise, you will end up with a bottleneck of disappointed people and you will just convert them on to NVQ programmes. Yes, they will have the qualification to work in the sector, but they will have lost the aspiration that they had in coming for an apprenticeship, and you will have disappointed them because you could not get them employment.

Our college is a large vocational college with 15,000 students. I send more people to university than I can give apprenticeships to. At the moment, my numbers are capped by the LSC, in terms of 16-18s and 19-plus, but the LSC will fund me for every apprentice I can get. It is an open book, but we cannot get the employers. The growth for FE and for training providers is to grow the apprenticeships, because that is where the business is. That is where the money is, so everyone is walking towards it, but the challenge, as Simon and Andy are saying, is getting the buy-in from employers.

Andy Powell: The programme-led-I am not sure that I am happy with the phrase-is something to be careful about. I sense that at the moment there is a sort of groundswell of received wisdom that these are awful, and I think that you have to look at them carefully. Actually, you could argue that programme-led is a well-established model. This is what doctors and lawyers did: they did the theory, then the practice. At the moment 14% of apprenticeships are programme-led, which is not a huge amount. I am told that some of those are clearly inappropriate, but they are not necessarily inappropriate, providing that they lead to the workplace and employment. We should make blanket statements such as, "Oh, the programme-led are rubbish," or whatever.

 

Q50 Mr. Chaytor: Two other things. First, on the question of transferability, what is the problem in making it easier to move between the diploma and the apprenticeship? Why are not diplomas structured in such a way that transferability to an apprenticeship is almost automatic?

Simon Bartley: I could give a very long answer on that, but I will not. The two are not parallel courses of learning. The diploma is really an academic qualification that teaches maths, English, physics or whatever in an applied manner. It is does not actually teach people the skills required to do a job. An apprenticeship, even the theoretical bit of it, is all about teaching the theory to enable the person to do the job. There will be items in a construction and built environment diploma that would assist, but it is not of the same volume and if a person on a diploma spends only two weeks in the workplace, they do not pick up an enormous amount of practical skills. To give somebody two weeks' worth of credit against an NVQ level 2 apprenticeship or a level 3 apprenticeship is so small as to be meaningless in the accreditation of prior learning.

When the Government designed diplomas, the idea was that they should not be pathways from a construction diploma into a construction job. They should be a way of learning what you should learn at school, using construction, which may be your interest, to develop your interests and help you to learn. I suspect that, if you were to ask me in five years' time whether that ambition was being fully fulfilled, my answer would be no. I believe that those young people who decide to do a construction and built environment diploma are those with more of a predisposition to do an apprenticeship in construction and built environment. However, we are two or three weeks into it, so let us watch what is going on.

Nick Edwards: A diploma will give a knowledge of industry, while an apprenticeship will give the skills of industry.

 

Q51 Mr. Chaytor: That reinforces the point that the two ought to be integrated. What is the purpose of segregation?

Andy Powell: Top down, to many young people whom I have met, including my son, a diploma-the application of things-would really turn them on and excite them more than sitting reading books. My son is all right at that, but he does not enjoy it. However, he is not in a position to say that he will take an apprenticeship. He does not have a clue what he wants to do nor does he have a love of a particular area. That is fine. If he were to do a level 2 diploma in, say, health and social care, and said that he really liked it, it is important to make provision in the Bill for him to go on to do an apprenticeship. The reality is that he will have to go back and do a level 2 apprenticeship, but that is life. That is fine. It should be catered for, and funded, because different things are involved. That is no different for all of us in life. We must avoid the idea that learning is just going one, two, three, four. All of us who want to learn IT go back to level 1.

 

Q52 Chairman: I know that Simon has to go shortly and there is one question to which we would like an answer. We must also give him a chance to comment on careers education. I wish to reinforce what is being said about transferability. I think that Nick Edwards spoke about the difficulty of using Train to Gain money. Why cannot Train to Gain money be used to encourage employers to take on apprenticeships?

Nick Edwards: Train to Gain will fund only the NVQ. Initially, it was to fund the first level 2 NVQ for a learner, but now the new flexibilities are saying that people who already have level 2 can study additional level 2. However, it funds only the NVQ. It will not fund the component parts of the apprenticeship framework, which are the key skills and the underpinning knowledge.

 

Q53 Chairman: So should the Bill say something about that?

Nick Edwards: It should refer to the fact that we have two initiatives for employers to train in the workplace. One is Train to Gain, and one is apprenticeships. They need to have a dialogue with each other because employers will say that they have to do only the NVQ, not the key skills or the underpinning knowledge, and that it is free. They would ask why they had to do the apprenticeship when it would mean more responsibilities for them and, post-19, they would have to co-fund it, whereas under Train to Gain level 2 would be free at 19-plus, 30-plus or 50-plus.

Chairman: That is a very important point.

 

Q54 Mr. Chaytor: On another topic, the apprenticeship wage is less than the minimum wage. Is that true? Is that an issue?

Nick Edwards: It can be.

 

Q55 Mr. Chaytor: Is it not fixed? Are there fixed amounts? How does it work?

Simon Bartley: It is age dependent. If you are a 17-year-old apprentice, your employer has only to pay you a percentage of the minimum wage. I do not know the figures, but they are publicly available.

Is it an issue? A lecturer at the London School of Economics did some work on that for the schools commission. Some people think that reducing the wage of an apprentice would attract better people to participate in apprenticeships, and that more employers would be prepared to take on apprentices. Others think the absolute opposite and say that such a situation is disgraceful and that an apprentice should be paid a working wage-the minimum wage without a cut-off-because that would encourage better people to participate. My understanding of Hilary Steadman's involvement is that there is a little bit of "the jury is out" on that issue, but a review is ongoing in DIUS about it.

Andy Powell: A middle way is that some would say they should start smaller but grow, as an encouragement for the employer, to check out the employer and for retention.

Simon Bartley: We used to lose some three-year apprentices because we paid them only 90 per cent. of the electricians' wages. It was above the minimum wage, but they knew that they could go off and get another 10 per cent. and no one would ask them for their NVQ. That is a lack of licence to practise argument, but, in general, it is quite good to have a step up so that people stay in training for completion. It is a complicated issue.

 

Q56 Mr. Chaytor: On other financial support for the employer, Nick, you said earlier that you felt that colleges were paid quite adequately by the LSC for apprenticeships. What is the standard payment to colleges and to employers?

Nick Edwards: You want to know what I get for delivery?

 

Q57 Mr. Chaytor: Is it a secret? Is there not a standard rate offered by the LSC?

Nick Edwards: There is, but it depends on the apprenticeship and on how much of the framework that I deliver-if I deliver key skills and a technical certificate, or just a technical certificate, and so on. I can get about 3,000 for a learner for a year.

 

Q58 Mr. Chaytor: How does that compare with an employer who takes on an apprentice? Does the employer receive anything at all?

Nick Edwards: He's not getting anywhere close to that.

 

Q59 Chairman: Hang on. He's not getting anything-nothing. You said, "He's not getting anywhere close to that."

Nick Edwards: That is right.

Simon Bartley: An employer will be given money by the LSC to take on an apprentice. That money will cover the whole college expenditure if I, as an employer, have to send an apprentice to college or pay the college fees for the technical certificate and key skills, for examination fees and such like, and for some monitoring of the NVQ logbook and evidence. It does not pay any contribution to the apprentice's wages, so, over three and a half years, you can imagine that it makes the rest of the money pale into insignificance. That is the bit that employers do not get.

Chairman: We have to do a bit on careers.

 

Q60 Mr. Pelling: I do not always share the Carswellian approach-or aversion-to Government, but it is interesting that in the draft Bill, there is the obligation on the secondary school head teacher to ensure that the best advice and, where appropriate, advice about apprenticeships is given. Is that really necessary? Is it a bit too heavy-handed? And, what is your observation of the quality of impartial advice given in schools about training and apprenticeships in particular?

Andy Powell: Far from it-it is the other way. The Bill as I read it says that consideration should be given to informing people about the different options. I think it should be a requirement. It is quite straightforward: all young people and parents should be made clearly aware of the different routes and options open to them. There should also then be consideration of how young people and parents get real experience of work, of talking to employers, of apprentices, and of college and university leading the way up there. That is very important. The Skills Commission did a very good report on that, and at the moment there is a lot of evidence that there is no impartial advice and guidance. Why would there be? It is in schools' interest, if they have a sixth form, for anyone who has reasonable GCSEs to stay in the sixth form. Again, one thinks of one's own life, and the chances of young people's parents being told that there is another option are very slim.

Having said that, finally, I would say, let us think about different models. This is not about having to spend billions on loads of careers advisers; it is about giving the information, about new technology and about encouraging and enabling young people, which you can these days, to ask people who have been through it, and to go to websites, which is starting to happen. You get little videos of people who have gone to university and are apprentices and so forth, but there is a need for significant improvement.

Simon Bartley: I concur with everything that Andy has said.

Nick Edwards: Practically, I can tell you that within secondary schools in the area where I work, Lewisham, young people, through the career sessions that they have once a week in years 10 and 11, will at some point be told about apprenticeship, but when I attend careers and open evenings for sixth-form applications for 16-year-olds, apprenticeships do not have a stall or stand there. Only if the college attends will they get any information, so the young person will be made aware of an apprenticeship, but when the parent attends the school, there is not someone there-there is not a stand or information. The school is telling parents about what it can offer, but not about what it cannot offer.

 

Q61 Mr. Pelling: Does that mean that we should not allow schools to have that primary role in careers education? Do you think that it should be an impartial or separate service, perhaps ensconced in a school but nevertheless free of the slightly slanted advice that you might get in schools?

Nick Edwards: That is a challenge, though-is it not?-because Connexions is now part of and delivered by the local authority, which has responsibility for the schools. Connexions and careers guidance were at one point independent of local authorities, but now they are not.

Andy Powell: The short answer is, yes, it should be independent.

Nick Edwards: Yes, but I suggest that Connexions is not necessarily independent; it is part of the local authority.

 

Q62 Mr. Pelling: There is one difficulty and one reason why the schools might give slanted advice, other than self-interest. The fundamental question with apprenticeships, I suppose, is whether they are regarded as being for those who get lower grades. I wonder how it is possible, through careers education, to get over that stigma, which is still in some people's minds.

Nick Edwards: That is a problem, because that was the case with the old apprenticeship system, pre-1950s, when young people who did not achieve O-levels, as they were in those days, went into vocational areas in manufacturing and went on to apprenticeship schemes. The demands of the new apprenticeship programmes are substantial. They need gifted and talented young people who want to work in industry and want to learn in a practical rather than academic way. Demands are greater, but the message has not got through that apprenticeships are different. These are new models.

Andy Powell: I want to mention two things. First, research and stories: there are plenty of examples of people who have given up A-levels, gone to apprenticeships and been successful. It is not better or worse; it is there. It is about research of understanding what has happened to apprenticeships, and about those stories.

Secondly, there are areas in the Bill that need to be encouraged regarding progression. Whilst we should be quite clear that the primary purpose of apprenticeship is to learn that trade, skill, career and so forth, none the less, for those who wish to go on, for example, there should be higher apprenticeships. They exist but are little known about; one can get a level 4 through an apprenticeship. That is important and should be in the Bill. Similarly, in our opinion, young people should be given a chance to access an HE course, if they so choose, at some later stage, because, of course, it is difficult for an apprentice to go straight into a university degree. It is like an extended project, but it involves different skills, and they should have the opportunity to gain those skills if they so choose.

Simon Bartley: Most of the stories about progression for apprentices end up at university. Actually, that is a really bad route to be telling stories about, without telling them about other routes. In UK Skills-with my skills competitions hat on-we are looking for young people who are the best welders, the best farriers, the best electricians. Actually, what we want are the stories of when they go on and become the best in the country, when they are 35 or 55, at being an electrical foreman, doing complex works at Wembley Stadium or for the Olympics.

Too often-as we have with diplomas, I have to say-we get diverted back on to the track of celebrating academic rather than vocational education. Some of the vocational degrees are equally responsible for that. The days when somebody does an apprenticeship in something that leads on to becoming a lawyer, doctor or dentist are few and far between. Let us have them celebrating the fact that they are an electrician or a plumber.

 

Q63 Chairman: But there are lots of ways to do that. A chartered engineer does not have to go to university-you can just keep progressing.

Simon Bartley: But no one ever sings about them.

Chairman: They do not, that is right.

David, do you want a quick blast?

 

Q64 Mr. Chaytor: Perhaps we can stay on careers. Clause 23 of the Bill will require schools to make information about apprenticeships available. This is just completely hopeless, is it not?

Andy Powell: It requires schools to consider-

 

Q65 Mr. Chaytor: To consider that, yes. This is just a futile gesture, is it not?

Andy Powell: Absolutely. It should require schools to provide all parents and young people with all options.

 

Mr. Chaytor: That is right. This is a key clause for amendment if we are going to get impartial advice for all young people, and the key to that is getting it out of the individual school. I accept that there is Connexions within the local authority and still some shared interest, but getting the responsibility for advice away from the individual school must be crucial, and clause 23 is where that could be done.

Chairman: On that, note, I thank you for your attendance. Thank you, Simon, for staying later than the time when we thought you had to get away. We have learned a lot, and I think we are well on course to being able to make a contribution to the proposed legislation. If, when you are travelling home or back to your day jobs, you think of something that we did not ask you but should have, please e-mail us and be in contact with us so that we can make this report as good as it can be. Thank you.