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The college has taken a lead in developing vocational qualifications, and every key stage 4 student has to do a vocational programme. Similarly, those doing vocational programmes have to do academic work so that they have the skills that employers need. The NEET—not in education, employment or training—figures for those who went there have more than halved in recent years, and it has a very good track record. The centre will offer AS and A2 programmes, but it will also offer apprenticeships, at the request of local industry. There will be post-16 industrial apprenticeships for local engineering and electrical companies. The centre is working with Caunton Engineering, structural steel engineers; with JTL, which is sending apprentices from local electrical companies; with Balfour Beatty Derby; and with the
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Advanced Composites Group. One cannot have a Formula 1 car without material from ACG in Heanor in my constituency.

The centre is working to provide industrial apprenticeships for post-16 students. It is offering diplomas in a whole range of subjects, and it has programmes for physically impaired and hearing impaired students. It is working with the Key Stage 4 Support Centre in Derbyshire, where permanently excluded students from about 19 local secondary schools are got back into a two-day-a-week programme, to engage with getting nationally accredited status. It can hopefully then go on to get those students into work. The Phoenix centre, opening tomorrow, is very much about vocational education, giving people skills and qualifications and apprenticeships, and getting the involvement of people with disabilities and young people who have been permanently excluded from school. So there are very positive examples of work that is going on, and I am excited about going to the centre tomorrow.

My second example is a local company, Manthorpe Engineering. I read an e-mail from it yesterday; it has asked me to support its application for planning permission so that it can extend its work. It says that despite the recession, it is still expanding, and expects to create an additional 75 high-performance jobs. It runs a successful apprenticeship programme with 21 young engineers, a high proportion of whom are educated at another local school, Mill Hill school. The company also offers work placements. Again, that is another positive example.

I come now to my tributes to my friends, who died tragically young. We do not necessarily realise some of the work that is being done, but both cases that I shall mention show another way in which voluntary organisations have a role to play in reskilling and reinforce the fact that we must take every single opportunity that is offered.

John Hett managed the midland railway museum amazingly and developed it over the past 30 years. A number of volunteers work at the museum—for example, a 24-year-old who had worked for a small engineering company that went bust. As a volunteer, he has been restoring steam and diesel locomotives. He has kept and developed his skills in a voluntary organisation because he is mad on railways. He now has a job with EWS freight hauliers, part of DB Schenker, based at Toten. Another volunteer had his own car maintenance company, which did not work out. He has been doing bodywork at the museum and now has a job with Bombardier train makers in Derby. In recent years, a number of people from the midland railway museum have got jobs with Bombardier that will end up being permanent.

The museum has always taken on people on programmes such as the new deal, which helps to upskill and maintain the skills of those who have them and train those who have not had the opportunity to gain skills. For those who work in construction, the museum makes sure that they get their CSCS—construction skills certification scheme—certificate. It is important that voluntary organisations such as the museum can provide and develop skills. It developed a railway carriage with local youngsters, which was donated to a youth club in a deprived village in my constituency.

I mentioned my county councillor, Paul Buckley. I knew of his commitment to the Derbyshire unemployed workers centre, but I did not realise until I was preparing
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to speak at his funeral—he died, tragically, at the age of just 43—that he had wanted to train as an advice worker at the unemployed workers centre. He was unable to do so because he was virtually blind from an earlier disability, so he went on to get involved in the workers centre and ended up as its chair. I did not know until his funeral that he had been encouraging a young man at the unemployed workers centre in Chesterfield to use the new IT now available to train as an advice worker, which Paul had not been able to do previously when the IT was not available. We should not think of training only in particular categories; it can happen in all kinds of circumstances.

Many positive things are happening, but Lord Puttnam asked me to raise some of the downsides. We must make sure that employers are on the ball. Skillset is one of the two most successful pathfinders, the old sector skills council, which provides technical training for film, television and digital. Apparently, Ofcom allowed ITV to pull out of some of its public service obligations. ITV subsequently announced that it was pulling out of Skillset. ITV should realise that it will need those skills in the future and that it is absurd for it to pull out of the organisation providing them. However, there are many positive examples, and I will be going to help open the wonderful new centre in my constituency tomorrow.

5.38 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I shall try to reskill myself and be brief. Perhaps the House should take part in such a programme, as many of the arguments have been made in various ways from those on the Front Benches.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who has done an amazing amount of work on skills. I especially appreciate that because I chaired the Conservative party’s policy review on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and we have worked in harmony. I mention mathematics not least out of disappointment: I do not know what Carol Vorderman has that I have not got, but the party appears to have preferred her to be the mathematics tsar, rather than me. Nevertheless, I shall thoroughly enjoy working with her.

Too much of the debate, if I may say so, has been about infrastructure, buildings and the cost of buildings, rather than what goes on inside them, which is important to young people and to older people who wish to reskill themselves. As a sort of Foster review of expenditure on facilities is under way, I hope that it will take into account the opportunities that a recession gives for renegotiating construction contracts to get better value for money so that it can go further.

Secondly, and I feel passionate about this, I hope that in any re-evaluated scheme more effort can be put into providing laboratories for science experiments. Too often, schools do not have those facilities, and that is one of the reasons science is less exciting to young people in our schools than it should be.

That brings me to the key point. We are in a recession and it will last for time enough in any young person’s life. We need to make even more effort to ensure that young people get the opportunity to learn things that will be useful to them in the broadest sense and that they understand what skills they need if they are to be
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employable. For example, it is perverse that in this country the number of young people who have applied for university degrees in IT subjects has been declining just when demand for those skills has been rising. Indeed, if one listens to the experts, it seems that during this recession demand for IT skills will be at least stable if not increasing. Why is that happening?

Why do we still struggle to get enough young people to learn physics and chemistry, despite the wonderful efforts of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry to encourage the training of teachers or at least to provide the opportunities for their retraining? Our universities have had a real problem not only in getting people to study the sciences but in ensuring that people are retained in teaching. One of the big efforts that I hope the Government will make is to use the recession as an opportunity to capture at least those who are now studying sciences at university and get them to go into teaching.

Interestingly, the recession in the finance industry is at least an opportunity for the Government. In 2002, 6 per cent. of physics graduates entered the world of finance; by 2007, that had risen to 19 per cent. Efforts are already being made to encourage graduates to go into teaching, but if our schoolchildren are to get science opportunities at school, it is essential that they get them from people who have done the relevant science at university. In many schools, I am afraid, biology teachers, who are regarded as having done science, teach physics and chemistry as well; they often mug it up the night before. I am not being disrespectful to them—and the children are lucky to have biology teachers—but I have talked to such teachers in my constituency and I realise their struggle to keep up. It is therefore hardly surprising that young people are not as inspired as we try to get them to be by the wonders and problem solving that physics and chemistry can lead to.

This country has produced remarkable engineers, who should be an inspiration to young people. However, it is no good their being inspirational if there are no teachers to teach the subject. I ask the Secretary of State to make more effort, please, to make sure that young people are inspired to do those important things.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about big areas of effort that we should make in this country. Often, however, they are not related to jobs likely to be on offer—at least, not in the same numbers—to British people. For example, I hear an awful lot about green technologies. I am all in favour of them; they are one of the areas of science and engineering that we need to stimulate. However, in terms of our skills, they do not exist in this country. Many of the windmills and wind turbines that we might be able to bring forward from research into practical application are going to be made abroad.

Furthermore, the Government have rightly encouraged the nuclear industry to bring forward plans, and by 2020 I hope that the next generation of nuclear technology will come into application. However, the skill sets are just not there. In a recession, in particular, we need to do a series of things: first, train people with the basic skills that they require; and, secondly, ensure that there is a match between the skill sets that they might think they want and the demand the Government are producing. If we are saying that there will be a nuclear industry
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reborn by 2020, then let us ensure that we are encouraging schools and universities to run courses for nuclear physicists and engineers.

This is a very important debate that has been well stimulated by my Front-Bench colleagues on an Opposition day. I hope that the Government draw lessons from it instead of just getting into competitive debating about the amount of money that might be spent. Money is important, but what goes on in the institutions is even more important.

5.45 pm

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Much of what I have to say complements the remarks made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) in his very constructive contribution.

If we were not in a recession, the message for British industry would be this: what we need is a high-skill, high-wage economy if Britain is to compete successfully on the global stage. That would mean investing in the skills of our work force—investing now for the skills that we will need in 20 years’ time. We must get those whose basic skills are not on the NVQ ladder up on to that ladder, and help those who are halfway up to reach the top. As we are in a recession, the message to business and industry must surely be exactly the same: if Britain is to compete successfully on the global stage, what we need is a high-skill, high-wage economy. We have to look now at where we want to be at the end of this recession; we have to look now at the skills that we need in a rapidly changing globalised economy; and we have to be aware of what our competitors are doing, not only in the UK market but abroad. The mantra of “education, education, education” has never been more important for the British economy or for the fulfilment of British people than it is today. We do not yet know how the measures that we have put in place in schools will have benefited the future skills of the work force and the future economy, but we know that they will have done.

In the late 1970s, when I started teaching science, the comprehensive school where I worked had courses in rural studies, car mechanics, home economics and many other subjects, all designed to engage the less academic pupil—to bring qualifications, where they were earned, in skills other than those demanded by universities, and to give a whole swathe of young people a purpose in education which otherwise they might have missed. However, such courses disappeared rapidly, and by the end of the recession of the early ’80s very few schools were still teaching them. The iron fist of the Conservatives’ national curriculum had come in. It had reduced diversity in schools, reduced opportunity for the many, and reduced the ability of young people of lower academic levels to gain qualifications and specialise in subjects of their choice. One day in 1983 or thereabouts, a young boy came to see me, just weeks before he was due to leave school at 16. This inoffensive youth with a shy smile had got an apprenticeship to go to. He was made up—over the moon. But the following week he was more withdrawn than ever, and would not even make eye contact with me or anyone else. I asked him what was wrong, and he showed me a letter. The apprenticeship had been cancelled: “Government cuts”, it said. That must not happen again.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Tom Levitt: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, as other people wish to speak.

The staying-on rate in our schools has improved, but it is not as good as it should be. However, the decision to raise from 16 to 18 the age at which one can leave formal education for good is a real investment in the future. It ensures that every 16-year-old who does not want to stay on at school will still have a place—full-time or part-time, in college or as a day-release student, or in some other combination of training and work—that ensures that the skills habit becomes part of their working lives. The first children to whom that will apply started their secondary school careers last September.

Good employers have always valued skills and training. Learndirect and union learning representatives contribute, too. I am delighted that as a result of these measures an increasing number of good employers are out there. How do I know that? I know it because of the genuine success that Train to Gain is having, even at this difficult time for industry and the economy. Tens of thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees have already been in touch with the Learning and Skills Council and met their skills brokers—people whose job it is to match the right employee with the right training.

I attended a conference in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire last Friday and the enthusiasm and interest that employers from throughout the east Midlands showed there was incredible—it was wonderful to behold. Employers know that “invest to save” makes sense, and that investing in skills now to get on in the future is a good way of investing their money.

At the same time, this Government have trebled the number of apprenticeships to nearly a quarter of a million, with more to come. Ten years ago, apprenticeships were regarded as a thing of the past, but I am delighted that Tarmac will create dozens of apprenticeships in my constituency this year through its cement-making operation, despite the problems that the construction industry currently has. There are still goods and materials that need to be created for others to use—recession or no recession. The manufacture of such materials will require different skills from those that their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago required.

Companies know that they can bring skills into their industry by looking to the international market and buying them in, but that is not the sustainable way of doing things. Tarmac has recognised something of the philosophy of the Jesuits—“Give me an apprentice when they are young and I will create the skilled craftsman and woman of the future.” This is an example of invest to save—investing to make profits in the future, and investing in the quality of the work force—and it is an example of why the current debate about foreign workers is so wrong. We have created 2 million British jobs, which were all available to British workers, and many of them have been taken up by British workers. We have never had more British people in work than we did in 2008, and there are hundreds of thousands of British workers working elsewhere in the European Union, with the same basic rights and protection as they would have here. There are 400,000 vacancies in the British economy, and we want to create more. Jobs need doing in the caring professions, as we have heard, in manufacturing for export and in green technology. If we are serious about giving British workers the skills to compete with the best in the world, British jobs for British workers is a
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legitimate aim. I stress, as my noble Friend Lord Campbell-Savours did in another place yesterday, that British jobs for British workers is not the same thing as British workers for British jobs.

In the east midlands, our economy has been hit by the downturn in the motor trade, and companies in my constituency that are involved in the supply of parts for the motor trade have been affected, such as Federal-Mogul, which makes brake linings, and Otter Controls, which makes thermostats. Just down the road, near Derby, we have the European training centre for Toyota, one of the world’s largest companies. It is the largest producer of cars in the world, and last week it announced record losses on its balance sheets, but it is not a company planning to economise on skills. It knows that to compete at the cutting edge of international trade, it needs an ever-changing mix of the right high-calibre skills. It is willing to invest when times are lean in order to make the good times happen sooner, and better, than they would otherwise.

As for further and higher education, the university of Derby has a campus in my constituency, and a couple of years before it moved to that campus, it merged with High Peak college in Buxton. The principal reason for that was that the high-quality vocational qualifications provided by the college in fields such as catering, tourism and hospitality could not attract an international market because the college did not have university status. Those institutions were put together and the merger worked. The university upholds the principle of excellence for all; I am proud that it is in High Peak, bringing young blood into our communities, and providing opportunities for people with learning disabilities and other disabilities.

One of the roles of jobcentres is to talk to workers facing redundancy not just about counselling and benefits, but about the training that might be available and job opportunities, too. Those workers need to ask themselves what skills they will need to get back into the work force as soon as possible if they are made redundant, bearing in mind that there are 400,000 vacancies in our economy. Where can they get the skills that they need, and who will pay for the courses? Jobcentres are on hand to provide that information, and to work with skills brokers to provide a comprehensive system of support.

A weakness in the system is that some employers are actually refusing the support and help that is available, and are not allowing jobcentre staff to come on to their premises to talk to workers who are facing redundancy. To get out of this recession with as few wounds as possible, we need to have all sides working together. I urge companies considering redundancies to make sure that their people have access to advice and the opportunity to gain the skills that they need at this difficult time. I ask my friends in the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that these partnerships happen. People facing redundancy have a right to support, and their soon-to-be-former employers have no right to deny it to them.

We are pulling together with schools, colleges, universities, trade unions and increasing numbers of employers, who all recognise the need for developing skills. Together with the Government, they are committed to making sure that skills are generated for the economy of the future and the fulfilment and happiness of our people.

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