MPs question John Denham about youth apprenticeships

May 3, 2009 at 12:28 pm Leave a comment

By James Easy

There wasn’t much to shout home about from this week’s Innovation, Universities and Skills questions, however, one announcement caught the eye.

With the economic crisis now firmly under way, there is a strong likelihood that the young and barely qualified will be amongst the main sufferers.

Apprenticeships play a huge part in that for those who may not be academically very able, or even interested, but have abilities and talents in other areas. Thursday’s questions had a large focused on this topic.

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton, North-East, asked what steps the Department “is taking to increase the number of apprenticeships”.

Secretary of State John Denham replied: “…we announced an extra £7m for up to 10 new apprenticeship training agencies to help small businesses take on apprentices. We have recently announced a further £140m to provide 35,000 extra […] apprenticeships this year.”

Meg Munn (Lab, Sheffield Heeley) asked whether Mr Denham agreed that: “one way of [tackling the pay gap between men and women] is to get more women into what are seen as non-traditional sectors such as science, engineering and technology?

“What can the programme of apprenticeships do to ensure that happens?”

Mr Denham responded: “The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill introduces [a] statutory duty on schools to promote information about apprenticeships.

“As part of the guidance that follows…we will want to ensure that non-traditional apprenticeships are promoted to young men and women”

In light of the spate of youth unemployment, David Kidney (Lab, Stafford) asked whether the Department “will link into the fund announced in the budget that will enable local authorities and voluntary bodies to offer employment to young people?” If this is the case he says, then “…[after six months] it could lead to a formal apprenticeship afterwards.”

Mr Denham said that his Department will work with the fund in two ways: first, “we will receive additional funding […] to offer over 80,000 additional training places to young people who’ve been out of work for 12 months.”

Second, “we will work with employers who create new opportunities to ensure that young people doing those jobs can get the skills to sustain their future employment.”

When the Shadow Secretary David Willetts (Con, Havant) stood at the despatch box, he picked up on a past statement made by the Under-Secretary of State (Sion Simon), in which he assured that there would be funding so that everyone who had started an apprenticeship to complete it.

So why, Willetts asked, were “providers approaching us to warn that funding cuts for next year are so severe that they cannot be confident even of being able to maintain their current apprenticeships, let alone meet the Government’s ambitious targets for more?

“Will the Secretary now consider our proposal for a nationwide clearing house for all apprentices who are now in danger of losing their apprenticeships before they are completed?”

Mr. Denham said there were two issues to Mr Willetts’ question. On the first regarding the funding for apprenticeship training he said “it should not be the case that training providers are unable to pay for or receive funds for the completion of current apprenticeships.”

On the second issue, regarding those who lose their jobs because of the downturn, he said “we already have a clearing house in construction apprenticeships…and that has managed to place more than 600 apprentices; we have changed the rules so that an apprentice can continue training for up to six months at college even if they do not have an employer so as not to interrupt their training.”

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