Category: Skills

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – Committee (1st Day)

I support all the amendments in this group. However, I want to talk specifically about Amendments 1, 3, 6 and 13. Amendment 1 seeks to define an apprenticeship to ensure that employers are compliant with the terms of an agreement. This definition is essential to the success of apprenticeships, as it clearly states what is required of employers, thus ensuring that apprentices gain broad knowledge and interest in the specific industry.

The purposes of an apprenticeship are threefold. They are vital in making sure that apprentices develop the practical skills and qualifications that will enable them successfully to gain employment in their chosen industry. The contents of apprenticeships must be in synergy with the demands of employers in a specific industry. It is crucial that relations of mutual understanding and respect are fostered between employers and apprentices. This would promote the likely scenario that the employer would be willing to offer an apprentice a job in their company after the completion of an apprenticeship.

The proposed new paragraph (b) in Amendment 1 requires an employer to provide a varied apprenticeship programme that encompasses both on-the-job and off-the-job training. This amendment is of particular importance as it will give apprentices the opportunities to master their fields across a spectrum of practical and office-based learning. It is a common occurrence for some employers to state that many of the younger employees excel in the textbook application of their duties, but are lacking in the vocational sense. I congratulate my noble friend on this amendment as I feel it will be strongly supported by employers and apprentices alike.

The proposed new paragraph (c) in Amendment 1 seeks to provide apprentices with training that has the long-term goal of providing apprentices with an award of proficiency that is recognised in their field. This will work towards enabling apprentices successfully to gain employment in their chosen trade. The development of a qualification that is respected and recognised in the industry will give learners confidence in their achievement and could also lead to international recognition of British apprenticeships. This would greatly support and promote our young people, while creating a reputation for Britain as a place where apprenticeships are highly valued, which would consequently boost our economy.

Amendment 3 makes provision for supervised training in the workplace as part of an apprenticeship. The value of practical work experience in a chosen field must not be underestimated. By providing supervised training as part of an apprenticeship, the employer may offer further guidance to the apprentice that may not occur otherwise. This amendment has additional benefits to learners in the sense that supervisors may feel inclined to ensure that the apprenticeship is successfully completed. This is a likely probability as the amendment could lead to employers building a rapport with learners that may lead to long-term mentoring after the completion of the apprenticeships.

I welcome Amendment 6 on the issue of apprentices’ certificates as it makes supervised training in industry a provision for which a certificate cannot be issued in its absence. This provision will ensure that learners get a broad experience of what working in industry will entail. The difference between apprenticeship and the traditional academic path of study essentially rests upon this requirement. This amendment will also add legitimacy to apprenticeships and will encourage a greater commitment from learners to really apply themselves to their courses. Students are awarded certificates after successful completion of their GCSEs and A-levels; it is right that this should be the case for completing an apprenticeship.

Amendment 13 states that employers should be given the freedom to decide upon the provision of the apprenticeships in relation to the workplace. Employers should be encouraged to sponsor apprenticeships and decide upon their content as they have full knowledge of the skills required by the industries. Apprenticeships should have the status of vocational courses, which are on a par with academic qualifications and give learners a clear path to a degree-level qualification. This method could prove to be an effective way of destroying the unfortunate stigma attached to vocational courses in certain circles. This amendment also provides apprentices with protection as they will be in a position to make a complaint should an employer renege on the terms of an apprenticeship agreement.


Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill: Second Reading

My Lords, I welcome this Bill, which covers so many issues of great importance, but I aim to raise issues which I feel are salient.

Apprenticeships are crucial to preparing our nation’s workforce for the competitive global market. My understanding of an apprenticeship is that it provides a route to building technical skills that are relevant to the requirements of industry through practical learning. It appears that apprenticeships have been serving alternative purposes, such as helping individuals to achieve basic numeracy and literacy. These skills should be provided in schools and community learning centres, but certainly not as part of apprenticeships. As a result, the definition of an apprenticeship has become distorted, which has resulted in the reluctance of a number of employers to sponsor them. It is therefore important for us to consider legislation on apprenticeships and allied subjects.

I welcome Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Bill, as I share the belief that an employer needs to promote the training of staff, which will maintain and enhance their standards. This will provide the staff with satisfaction and assist in making our businesses and industries more productive. Professional bodies, employers, individuals and government all have a role to play in the provision of these skills.

I have been a visiting lecturer on insurance and financial services, and I am the chairman of an insurance broking organisation. As an employer, I have fully supported the training of our employees and giving them every assistance. I therefore endorse the provisions in the Bill pertaining to these matters. For us to maintain our premium position in the world in financial services, we need to ensure that the knowledge and expertise of our staff are continuously kept at a high level.

I avidly support Clause 41, as it requires local education authorities to encourage school leavers to remain in education after the age of 16, and I register my support for the measures in the Bill that give employees the right to request leave to train or study. This provision will benefit our economy and, thus, our society as a whole. I should like further education colleges to be given greater freedom to determine their own destinies. They have proven to be vital institutions in the quest to encourage post-16 and adult learning.

I welcome the provisions to improve the academic prospects of young people in custody. Although I am in favour of new Section 562B(3) of the Education Act 1996, to be inserted under Clause 49, I am concerned about its use in practice. It would place the onus on the local authority where a young offender was resident prior to being taken into custody to make educational provisions for them during and after their period of detention. One can argue that new subsection (3) provides local authorities with reasons to abstain from fulfilling this duty. Young offenders will find it increasingly difficult to integrate back into society if these powers of omission are enforced.

I also welcome Clauses 188, 189 and 190, which will support the implementation of the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his report. Clause 188 will ensure that child safety and protection remain the central priorities for all children’s service authorities. It will provide children with additional protection as all local authorities will be bound by this clause to meet all safeguarding targets. I would be grateful if the Minister would elaborate on these targets. Clause 189 requires all local authorities to appoint two members of the general public to all local safeguarding children boards, which would promote transparency and guarantee civic contribution in the general scrutiny of the boards’ proceedings.

It is crucial that all stakeholders in society are encouraged to put themselves forward in order to reinforce the idea that child protection is not the duty of only a select few but all of us. Clause 190 will ensure that all local safeguarding children boards publish annual reports about their efforts to provide child safety and welfare in their communities. The requirement that these reports may be submitted to respective children’s trusts is welcome as it will provide efficient scrutiny. This clause can be strengthened further by ensuring that all serious case reviews are published. We must do everything in our power to prevent the tragic suffering that befell Baby Peter and Victoria Climbié in their short lives.

In order for these clauses to have the desired effect, action must be taken to tackle the disproportionate number of cases allocated to each social worker. Social workers have a central role in ensuring that children and the most vulnerable members of society are protected. It is only fair that they receive adequate training and resources to enable them to fulfil these duties. A serious problem exists concerning the recruitment and retention of social workers, and these difficulties have had an impact on their ability to carry out their jobs effectively.

The shortage of apprenticeship places in Britain can be attributed to the overwhelming administrative and fiscal burdens inflicted on companies. The Learning and Skills Council has presided over the bureaucratic delivery of apprenticeships. The errors of the apprenticeship system can be attributed to the Government’s decision to abandon the modern apprenticeship model introduced by John Major’s Government in response to the decline of apprenticeships sponsored by employers. The main feature of the modern apprenticeship was that it resulted in a level 3 qualification, which was equivalent to an A-Level. Although the Learning and Skills Council has categorically failed to achieve its goals, it is highly unlikely that scrapping it, as advocated in this Bill, in favour of creating three organisations will reduce bureaucracy. If the Government believe that taking these steps will reduce bureaucracy, why were they unable to state in the other place that the number of staff employed by the new bodies would not surpass the current number of people employed by the LSC? I should like to express my dissatisfaction at the number of bodies and quangos being created.

Clause 235 gives teachers the authority to search students for weapons, knives, drugs, alcohol or stolen goods provided the teacher is of the same gender as the student and is supervised by another teacher of the same sex. This requirement will be difficult to satisfy in primary schools because of the limited number of male teachers and the fact that the police may have to be contacted before a search can commence. This is highly impractical and may prevent officers from carrying out more urgent duties. The Bill does not provide any protection to teachers who have false allegations made against them. Teachers do a tremendously difficult job and legislation should support them in their role. I fear that a lack of adequate protection could deter individuals from entering the teaching profession.

This Government were elected on the pledge that they would prioritise education. After 12 years in government, the facts speak for themselves: 40 per cent of children enter secondary school with difficulty in reading, writing and numeracy. The system has failed the most disadvantaged children: 50 per cent of them are unable to achieve a single A* to C grade at GCSE. The number of school leavers without a job or work placement has risen to 860,000, 5 million adults are illiterate and 17 million struggle with basic literacy. This Bill must undoubtedly be strengthened during its passage through this Chamber to ensure that the systematic failure to support the most vulnerable members of society is properly addressed.


Skills Base

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, on his presentation today and his excellent report. I should like to talk about the skills issue in the sector in which I have worked all my life, insurance and financial services. I have been very actively involved in training and the improvement of standards in my industry. I have held senior positions with the Chartered Insurance Institute and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association. I have also been a visiting lecturer on insurance subjects.

We have a very successful and world-class insurance and financial services industry which brings considerable benefits to this country. We need, however, to look ahead to keep our premier position. We cannot assume in these fast-moving, globalised financial markets that the UK’s pre-eminence will be maintained. Improved skills are a vital component in ensuring that this competitive advantage remains.

Over the past four months I have visited India, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to look at their insurance and financial services markets, and I believe that we should be more involved in those countries. The Leitch report offers a vision of the future which shows that the UK risks facing a skills deficit in the context of international competition.

My concern is that a belief in the excellence of the UK financial services industry makes it easy to assume that all in the financial services skills world is rosy. A recent survey of its members undertaken by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), a leading professional body with more than 90,000 members within the financial services and insurance sector, sheds an interesting but rather worrying light on the issue of skills.

The CII survey found that 71 per cent of financial services employers perceive a shortage of technical skills while 63 per cent also believe that the demand for professional qualifications will increase over the next five years. More worryingly, 46 per cent of the CII’s members thought that new entrants were not as well equipped as entrants a decade ago, and 55 per cent of respondents felt that, unless action is taken to address this, the UK will fall back by 2020. This concern should be put in context. The same survey showed that awareness of the issues facing the sector is high—90 per cent believe that there is a direct correlation between the level of investment in training and the profitability of a company, and 94 per cent of employers agree that technical skills are critical in maintaining the competitiveness of UK financial services providers.

I take comfort from that last statistic; there is recognition of the future danger. The key thing is to ensure that the education needs of the industry, both in training of new entrants and in continuing professional development throughout careers, are identified and met by the industry in consultation with educational bodies, trade associations, employers and individuals themselves. That is the task ahead.

I cite the CII survey identifying the problem. It is gratifying to see that the CII is developing imaginative solutions. For example, the CII’s Faculty of Broking, in association with the British Insurance Brokers’ Association and a leading insurance company, have developed the concept of a broker academy which provides a one-stop-shop providing training, education and professional qualifications.

Another identified area of specific need is the vital area of insurance claims, a specialist discipline which is often neglected. The CII has established a research project to look at the future of claims, and this will identify the skills that practitioners will need.

The Leitch report talks a lot about employer-led solutions, a direction which I strongly support. This can be done by an organisation setting up a structured programme for the staff which includes classroom and on-the-job training, mentoring and appropriate appraisals. Every encouragement and assistance should be given to staff to study for professional examinations. Excellent courses are available from the Chartered Insurance Institute and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.

In addition to improving and maintaining our expertise in London we need to build and promote better skills in other parts of the country and establish regional centres of excellence which will give us breadth of expertise.

Lastly, there are major challenges across all sectors in the UK in facing up to the fierce blast of international competition and skills. Improving skills can play a vital part in ensuring that UK business is flexible and has adequate capability to face the future with confidence and with a highly skilled, flexible and confident workforce. I hope that this debate will play a useful part in setting us down that road.