Tomorrow is the start of Colleges Week and a survey carried out by the Association of Colleges which was published here on Friday shows that 71% of the Small and Medium Size Companies believe colleges are important to the businesses to provide training and the retraining of staff as they look ahead with a number of challenges As a business, 39% say they would look to train, retrain or upskill their employees through colleges, compared to 21% who would turn to a university or 13% online courses. A further 44% believe colleges are best placed to skill their future workforce, compared to universities (22%) and schools (21%). Sadly based on my own work with local Colleges that are willing to assist small businesses there is very little evidence, knowledge that the Government is serious about improving the type of skills that they are enabling colleges to train their students for. Unlike the SME businesses that have had their results demonstrated in this survey, our requirements are based on the need for existing training to be enabled to set out in a modular way. The challenge we face is that the College courses contain many of the valuable elements, but they are all on a range of their courses. Our industry requires some electrical skills, some building skills and some IT skills and if we and the Colleges could make it possible for our staff and potential Apprenticeships to travel through these various elements we would then be able to add the other skills ourselves. The big challenge is that the time and energy for the Colleges to reformat their training cannot be achieved without funding and that is not available. We have tried other attempts of setting out new Apprenticeships and have been unable to achieve that. The big problem is that our industry is a small industry so even if a new form of course could be set out, we would never have enough staff to go on it and the same would be true for our competitors. So what we need handed over to Colleges is the time and flexibility to bring people in for small parts of a wider training provision. Unfortunately the focus from the Government is a limited number of mainstream Courses and these are then hard to turn into modules that would work for our Industry and a number of other different Industries.
The focus from Gillian Keegan who is a local MP and the Minister responsible for Apprenticeships is the specific offer that the Government is making. However on itself it will never adjust the training that Colleges currently offer. How do we persuade people like Gillian and her colleagues to be willing to listen to businesses like ours? This is one of her most recent set of responses to her colleagues which took place on Monday.
John Howell (Henley): What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of apprenticeships.
Gillian Keegan (Chichester): I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his support for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will be more important than ever to support our economic recovery and help businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills they need to recover and grow. To support employers to offer new apprenticeships, they can now claim £2,000 for every new apprentice they hire under the age of 25 and £1,500 for those aged over 25.
JH: As a country, we rightly champion our wonderful universities. However, we are often too slow—particularly in schools—to promote apprenticeships. Will my hon. Friend assure me that she is doing everything in her power to ensure that apprenticeships are seen as a valid part of our education system?
GK: I can reassure my hon. Friend that, as a former apprentice, this is very much at the forefront of my focus. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made it clear that further education is now more important than ever. That is part of the reason we are introducing once-in-a-generation reforms of the FE system through our skills White Paper, underpinning the progress we are already making with T-levels, which is backed by £500 million of funding per year, investing £1.5 billion in the transformation of the FE college estate, investing £2.5 billion through the national skills fund and introducing a new entitlement for adults without qualifications at level 3.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield): The Minister is right to say that apprenticeships are more important than ever, but for all the rhetoric, the way that the Government introduced the apprenticeship levy saw level 2 and level 3 apprenticeship numbers falling to their lowest level for a decade before coronavirus. Since then, we have seen generous incentives in the new kickstart scheme and much less generous incentives for apprenticeships. For all that the Minister says, why do this Government consistently introduce policies that have the effect of reducing the numbers doing level 2 and 3 apprenticeships?
GK: The hon. Gentleman refers, I think, to the switch from frameworks to standards, which did have an impact on some of the numbers, but it was most important that we focused on the quality of apprenticeships. There were a number of apprenticeships early on, when we introduced the reform of the system, that were not of the desired quality. Young people put their trust in us, in the apprenticeship provider and in the employer, and it is most important that they get very high-quality apprenticeships; that is our focus.
So the question is how will this focus take place unless Ministers like Gillian are willing to engage with businesses that are struggling to find the right solutions from the Colleges that are in their area and which are willing to try new solutions, but lack the capacity and resources to do so?