The latest answer on apprenticeships to a written Parliamentary question took place on Monday. Sadly its publication was too late to inform an online meeting session on Tuesday Morning organised by Sussex Chamber of Commerce. Had it arrived sooner it would have been possible for those participating to refer specifically to the statement by Gillian Keegan who is a local MP. However it was certainly clear that the current apprenticeship training provision for specialist elements of the construction industry is not matching their needs. The question that Gillian answered on Monday came from Helen Hayes who is the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood and she is also the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet. The question had a clear local London theme but the answer was broader than that, either because Gillian does not have any answers that are specific to London or because she wanted her answer to be heard more widely. So here it is for all of us.
Helen Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of a London Apprenticeship Service.
Gillian Keegan is a Minister in the Education Department with a particular focus on Apprenticeships which is why she answered the question.
Gillian Keegan: Apprenticeships is a national programme which gives employers access to high quality skills provision throughout England to meet their current and future skills needs. Individual employers already have direct control over their apprenticeships, and levy payers are able to use their funds as they choose, either to fund apprenticeships in their own business or in smaller businesses in their supply chain or local area. As my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister set out on 29 September, we will work with employers to improve the transfers process, making it easier for them to find smaller employers to receive transfer and make full use of their levy funds. In doing so we will build on successful regional pilot schemes, such as that in West Midlands Combined Authority.
The Sussex Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday was not focused entirely on Apprenticeships but it did nevertheless include quite a lot of focus on that subject and one of the questions related to the availability of apprenticeships for specialist industries. These industries are all run by companies and employers so they certainly fit into the claims made by Gillian. It is very clear that for many years the Government has identified the very largest industrial demands and has been delivering educational training for them which clearly match the apprenticeship needs. However they appear to require smaller industry companies to work together and then as a group knock on the door loud enough to get it opened by the Apprenticeship body. Sadly so far that has not happened for a range of industries due to the challenge that this creates. As a result the training set out to be delivered by Further and Higher Educational premises are a poor fit for a wide range of businesses and so the prospect of the individual employers being able to have direct control over their apprenticeships is a big fat zero. As for the claim stated on the 29th September 2020 that people like Boris and Gillian will work with large employers to help them find smaller employers” given that the process was supposed to begin in May 2017 and we are now 40 months late is not really very encouraging. Perhaps Gillian could begin by engaging with the smaller businesses in Sussex and then explain to them how they can identify and approach bigger businesses that have surplus levy funds. Perhaps she could also make it easier for Colleges to work with smaller local businesses to work out how to adapt their courses to match specialist industries. After all it was back in March 2018 that Gillian stated
In Chichester, the [fresh food and growth] industry is keen to upskill and train its employees, and has begun to implement training schemes using the apprenticeship levy. In the coming weeks, several growers are meeting representatives from further education colleges to see how they can collaborate on apprenticeship schemes using the levy and have more home-grown resource.
So given that was happening 30 months ago, perhaps she can now work close to her constituency and help other industries who are still waiting for solutions.