John Hayes on Apprenticeships

19th December, 2011, House of Commons

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of apprenticeships.

Mr Speaker, the other element is skills—but my skills could never be as great as your own, I hasten to add.

The guitarist Chet Atkins once said:

A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that.”

Mr Speaker, you and I know, along with others, that long apprenticeships in public service can bear out the first part of that sentiment. On overnight stardom, I say only that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), the new shadow Business Secretary, will no doubt enlighten us on some future occasion.

Mr Speaker, you and I have no wish for this debate to become an exercise in party political tergiversation alone. There is no need for unnecessary contumely, and no need for more criticism of Opposition Members than that which is necessary to, by contrast, highlight the extent of our achievements.

There are many on the Opposition Benchers whose commitment to apprenticeship training is deep and sincere, and I recognise that the previous Government did indeed invest in apprenticeships—certainly towards the end. It is also fair to point out that there was a rise of almost 50,000 in the number of apprentices aged over 25 years old, so, despite some things that we have read recently, the growth in older apprentices is a trend change that has been taking place over a number of years.

Indeed, the previous Government recognised, as you will know Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Leitch report on skills, which they commissioned, that such growth in the skilling of older workers was essential to keep pace with our competitors by upskilling and reskilling the existing work force.

Above all, I know that Members on both sides of the House recognise that apprenticeship training is a sure way to success. The all-party group on further education, skills and lifelong learning recently called for the creation of a “Royal Society of Apprentices” as a means of raising the profile of what many of us believe is our most effective form of vocational training, and I will, I am pleased to tell the House today, take that proposal forward.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister knows and is quite right that all Members are in favour of apprenticeships, but we are in favour of quality apprenticeships. When I was Chair of the Education and Skills Committee, I discovered that too many apprenticeships lasted only one year and very many did not lead to a secure job. There are now 1 million unemployed young people, and some of us believe that 6% of young people going into apprenticeships is not enough. We need new efforts to get more people apprenticeships now.

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman has been a long-standing advocate of apprenticeships, and he rightly draws attention to previous Select Committee reports on the subject. He highlighted those reports in the Chamber on more than one occasion when I was present, and he is right in two particular respects: first, it is important that we focus apprenticeships on where they are of most value, and there is more evidence to suggest that they are of most value to young people between the ages of 16 and 24; and, secondly, it is important that we are relentless in our drive for quality. He is right, too, that as we increase the quantity of apprenticeships there will be a tension with quality, but I shall say a great deal more today about the steps that we have taken and the future steps that we propose to take to achieve just that ambition.

Having said that there is a broad measure of agreement, a point echoed by the hon. Gentleman, I should say, first, that the difference between us and the previous Government is that we have made apprenticeships the pivot around which the rest of the skills system turns. Secondly, we have made them fill a bigger space than ever before. Finally, we have put in place an unparalleled level of funding to support our single-minded aim to create more apprenticeships than modern Britain has ever seen. It is important to point out that that growth has not been only in traditional craft apprenticeships, but in the new crafts too—advanced engineering, IT, the creative industries and financial services.

>Why, people might ask, do we put such an emphasis on apprenticeships? It is not just that apprenticeships work, although they do, or that an apprenticeship is probably the most widely recognised brand in the skills shop window, although it is; it is also about what apprenticeships symbolise—the passing on of skills from one generation to the next and the proof that that offers that learning by doing is just as demanding and praiseworthy as learning from a book. As William Morris said, all art and craft is

the expression by man of his joy in labour”.

It is my ambition to dispel once and for all the myth that one can gain accomplishment only through academic prowess. The sense of worth that people gain through the work of their hands—through practical, technical and vocational skill—needs to be recognised, just as we recognise academic achievement.

It is that sense of apprenticeships as the embodiment of a continuum that guarantees their place at the heart of my vision for skills. I hope that, like me, hon. Members on both sides will welcome the provisional figures that show that, in the academic year that has just finished, nearly 443,000 people started an apprenticeship in England.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating HTP Training, an Isle of Wight apprenticeship provider, and its managing director Rachael Fidler? Most notable is its successful apprenticeship completion rate of 87%—significantly higher than the national average of 74%. Does my hon. Friend agree that none of that would have been possible without the Government’s help and support?

Mr Hayes: That is the kind of testing question and penetrating intervention that I expected during this debate. None the less, it was most welcome, and from a Member who never ceases to represent his constituents in the Isle of Wight with vigour, verve and absolute integrity. His support for apprenticeships has been critical in delivering the 100% increase in Isle of Wight apprenticeship numbers to which he has drawn the House’s attention.

Mr Sheerman: Some of us sometimes try to get the Minister to be cross with us because he is always so polite and always strokes the feathers of everyone who asks him a question. However, I have to put it to him again: we all know that apprenticeships are something of a fig leaf for the Government. One million young people are unemployed and the Government keep pointing to what I call the fig leaf of apprenticeships.

Will the Minister stop weaving the myth that they are all three or four-year apprenticeships leading to secure jobs? What is the average length of an apprenticeship today? That is the crucial thing. I think that the Minister is going to have to say that it is about a year. Is that the truth? That is what the public want to know. What quality and length are the apprenticeships of which he is so proud?

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is renowned for his insight, and I had thought until today that he was equally renowned for his patience. I said that I would deal with quality and I assure him that I will also deal with the length of apprenticeships. I think he is right. Although there is no direct, guaranteed link between the length of an apprenticeship and its quality, there is a relationship. It is not a direct correlation, but it is a correlation none the less.

Today I will set out my demands for a minimum length for apprenticeships. That is perfectly reasonable. As I said, it is not a guarantee of quality, but it will certainly offer considerable assurance to the hon. Gentleman and others who, like me, are determined that quality should match quantity. The hon. Gentleman has, over many years, supported my view that technical education is critical not merely because it serves an economic function—because of its utility—but because of what it does for social mobility and social cohesion. Drawing on his patience and insight once again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to wait a few moments. I shall be speaking about the issue at considerable and eloquent length.

The figures that I cited show that numbers were up by more than half in the 2009-10 academic year. I want to make the point firmly that that includes an increase of about 10% in the number of apprentices under 19. I remind hon. Members that that Government achievement has been completed not merely because of our concentrated effort and the funding that we have put in place, although that is critical, but thanks to the work of further education colleges and other training providers, businesses coming forward and creating apprenticeship places, and learners and their families seizing the opportunity with both hands. The real credit lies with the learners, the training organisations and the businesses that allowed that expansion in the apprenticeship programme to take place.

Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): SQI in Watford offers 10-week apprenticeship courses followed by 10-week placements. They lead to 85% of those taking part being in permanent employment. I do not think that the length of an apprenticeship is everything.

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend has a lot to be pleased about in respect of apprenticeships; as he will know, in his constituency their number has grown by 98%. I did say that I did not think there was an exact correlation between quality and the length of a course, but I think there is a relationship. By setting down a marker about the minimum length of an apprenticeship, we will drive up quality. We will certainly reassure those who are genuinely committed to the apprenticeship programme, but have doubts about the tension between quality and quantity, that we are serious about standards. That matters.

I take my hon. Friend’s point. It may be possible, particularly for older learners with greater prior attainment, to top up skills—perhaps they are moving from a level 2 to a level 3 qualification, or they already have many of the skills necessary to gain their first level 2 qualification. None the less, I still think that length matters.

I should like to put the debate in context, Madam Deputy Speaker; you would expect me to do no less. The Government’s macro-economic policy is built on twin pillars—reducing the deficit and reshaping our economy to make it more sustainable. That second core aim is served by the apprenticeship programme, because it assists in recalibrating work force skills so that productivity rises and competitiveness grows. Britain’s future chance to prosper lies in a high-tech, high-skill economy and to prosper in that way we need a high-tech, high-skill work force.

The recent announcements of reform to the programme concentrated on three areas key to the programme’s continued expansion and success: how to get more employers involved in offering apprenticeships; how to ensure that apprenticeships continue to offer people, especially young people, a firm first step on the ladder that leads to fulfilling careers and further learning; and how we ensure that the money that we spend on apprenticeships has the greatest success.

In the end, apprenticeships are jobs and the programme is demand-led. That means that the growth depends on employers coming forward to make places available. In the current economic climate jobs are in short supply, notably for young people, so the record increase in apprenticeship numbers is remarkable. Hon. Members will join me in commending the 100,000 employers that are using apprenticeships to develop work force skills—helping their businesses, but also providing opportunities for people across this country to grow their skills and improve their prospects.

Our work to recruit more employers to our cause goes on. Only this morning, I was at No. 10 Downing street briefing major employers on what apprenticeships can do for them. They were as committed to spreading opportunity and to social justice as I am.

Our objective is to improve and strengthen the programme even further so that more individuals and employers can access the benefits of high-quality apprenticeships. Overall, employer ownership of vocational skills is the key to our approach. This ambition informs all our priorities in moving forward: first, by reducing bureaucracy to an absolute minimum, speeding up processes and boosting employer engagement; secondly, by safeguarding quality, raising standards, and enhancing the reputation of the apprenticeship brand; and thirdly, by focusing future growth where the returns and benefits are greatest, including growth sectors of the economy, small and medium-sized enterprises, young people and new employees.

SMEs tell us that they still face considerable hurdles in taking on apprentices, and we have taken a serious look at what we can do to help to remove the barriers that they face. This has rightly been raised on the Floor of the House by Members on both sides and in all parties. I can announce today that, first, we will bring reduce to one month the time it takes for an employer to advertise an apprenticeship vacancy, including identifying the provider and completing an agreement on a training package between the employer and the provider; and secondly, we will remove all health and safety requirements that go beyond what health and safety legislation requires. From 1 January, employers that meet the Health and Safety Executive’s requirements as set out in “Health and safety made simple” will be deemed to provide a satisfactory level of compliance. We will also work with the insurance industry to encourage an approach that is proportionate to risks, and with training providers to develop new service standards for supporting SMEs to be included in all contracts for apprenticeships delivered from March 2012.

In addition, we are committed, in a significant new pilot programme, to taking radical steps to give businesses direct access to up to £250 million of public funding for training and apprenticeships over two years. This pilot is a key part of the Government’s growth review. It will route funding directly to businesses, will be more efficient than current arrangements, and will give businesses real purchasing power in the schools marketplace to secure the support that they need.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hayes: I happily give way to the Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Mr Bailey: I thank the Minister for his customary courtesy in giving way. I welcome the announcement about provider and employer engagement, and speeding that up, but will he clarify whether there are any restrictions regarding a member of a board of a provider company being precluded from being a member of a board of a user company?

Mr Hayes: The answer is that I do not know; in these circumstances, it is always right to be straightforward. Because I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters seriously and is committed to getting this right, as I am, I will take his point away and look at it. He is arguing that there might be a conflict of interest in terms of provider and employer, and he is right to say that there should be a proper separation. However, as he will know, it is often the case in large companies that the training wing of the company provides the pedagogy associated with an apprenticeship while the apprentice is engaged in the work-based training in the same company, though in a different part of it. I would qualify his query with that caveat. None the less, I will take another look at the subject and will be more than happy to respond to him directly.

The pilot that I described will involve employers being asked to demonstrate how public funding will be used to leverage private investment and commitment to raising skill levels in their sectors or supply chains. As we grow the apprenticeship scheme, it is very important to take advantage of the value chains associated with our major corporates—their supply chains and their distribution chains, where they exist. Typically, Governments have spent insufficient time considering how that might work in the light of the well-established nature of those relationships and the dependence of large organisations on myriad smaller companies, the fragility of which, by their very nature, is possibly injurious to the interests of those corporates.

For example, major suppliers in the automotive industry tend to have very large numbers of organisations with which they deal commercially in their locality, some of which are vital to the effectiveness of such large organisations. It is vital, in their interests and in ours, that we do more to ensure that those relationships allow us to grow the apprenticeship system within SMEs. It may be of value for large companies to absorb some of the bureaucracy and some of the cost, and certainly to absorb some of the management associated with seeding apprenticeships in their value chain. Bidding for the employer-led pilot will formally be launched in the new year.

Above all else, my advocacy of practical learning and my faith in apprenticeships are driven not by economic imperative—not merely by utility—but by social purpose. I said earlier that for too long the myth that only through academic accomplishment can a sense of worth be achieved has been perpetuated by those who themselves have travelled a gilded path to academia. Now it is time once again to recognise what Ruskin and Morris knew—that all those with practical tastes and talents, with technical vocational aptitudes, deserve their chance of glittering prizes too. This is not just because of the relationship between craft and beauty and, in turn, between beauty and truth, but because for society to cohere we must promote the common good through a shared appreciation of what each of can achieve. All feel valued when each feels valued. Given that inequality is the inevitable consequence for a free economy in a free society, only through social mobility can a communal sense of fairness be achieved. A society that is unequal and rigid is bound to be unable to secure the ties of shared identity, as invisible and yet as strong as the heartstrings of love.

Mr Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman and I share a great admiration for the poet John Clare. I am still waiting for a quotation from John Clare, who lived very near his constituency.

May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the false dichotomy that comes through insidiously in his honeyed words—namely, that there is one group of people going into academia and higher education and a more worthy group going into apprenticeships and more practical learning by doing? This September, 36% of people went into higher education and 6% went into apprenticeships; we want him to talk about the 58% who went in neither direction.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): This is the season of good will, so I am pleading for good will from hon. Members in making short interventions. I remind everybody in the Chamber that this is a very heavily subscribed debate with a time limit on speeches that may, at this rate, have to be shortened for each speaker. In the interests of good will, perhaps we could make sure that all hon. Members get to speak tonight.

Mr Hayes: Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker; I must not allow my legendary generosity to prevent Members from contributing to this debate.

To the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) I say:

I loved thee, though I told thee not,
Right earlily and long,
Thou wert my joy in every spot,
My theme in every song.”

That is by the people’s poet, John Clare. I believe that the hon. Gentleman saved John Clare’s home with the involvement of a social enterprise. We share a passion for the people’s poet, as we share a passion for the welfare and interests of the people. It is just a pity that I am in the people’s party and he is not.

With so many people currently not in employment, education or training, we must do more to extend the ladder of opportunity—the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is absolutely vital that in getting apprenticeships to fill a bigger space, we not only allow them to redefine our sense of what we understand as higher learning—I shall speak about that, too—but use them as a vehicle to allow for re-engagement of those who are currently unable to contribute in the way that we both want them to by getting a job, keeping a job, and progressing in a job. Through our access to apprenticeships programme, which we piloted as a result of my determination to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman described, I believe that we can provide just such a vehicle to get those who were failed by the system the first time around and who do not have sufficient prior attainment on to a level 2 course.

The drive for greater quantity must be matched by a determination that quality will grow in tandem. First, we will strengthen the English and maths requirements for apprentices who have not yet achieved a level 2 qualification. Those subjects remain essential for long-term employability and progression, so from the 2012-13 academic year all apprenticeship providers will be required to provide opportunities to support apprentices in progressing towards the achievement of level 2, GCSE or functional skills qualifications. They will be measured on their success in so doing.

Secondly, we will launch a rapid employer-led review of apprenticeship standards to identify best practice, ensure that every apprenticeship delivers the professionally recognised qualifications that employers need, and ensure that the Government are maximising the impact of public investment.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Does the Minister share my concern that the new requirement for maths and English to be part of the apprenticeship course might deter some of the NEETs—those who are not in education, employment or training—we are trying to get into apprenticeships from taking part in such schemes? Does he believe that we need additional support to help underachievers who do not have the required attainment in maths and English to achieve it so that they can get on to an apprenticeship scheme?

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend will know that in his constituency of Burton, apprenticeship numbers have risen by 76%. He will know, too, that that rise is due to the excellent work of his local further education college, with which I have had regular dealings.

My hon. Friend is right to argue that it is important that we take account of those who do not have the prior attainment to get on to a level 2 qualification. That is precisely the point that I was making a few moments ago, when I spoke about pre-apprenticeship training. To be clear, I said that those achieving a level 2 qualification must meet the standards in maths and English. There is an absolutely proper argument that we need steps on the ladder before people get to level 2, to allow for the re-engagement of those who are currently not able to get a job.

Thirdly on quality, we will continue to raise quality through consumer empowerment and transparency by improving employer and learner access to objectives and comparable information on providers.

I can also announce today additional steps that I am taking to raise the bar of apprenticeship standards even higher and to root out poor quality where it exists. All apprenticeships should involve a rigorous period of learning and the practice of new skills. If the standards are sufficiently stretching and the expectations of competence high, I believe that a course should naturally extend over at least 12 months. That will be the expectation first for 16 to 18-year-old apprentices from August 2012, as new contracts to training providers are issued. I have asked the National Apprenticeship Service to assess the implications of extending that to apprentices of all ages, taking account of the fact that older apprentices typically have greater prior attainment, as has been said. That will also allow time for our raised expectations on English and maths standards to be achieved. I am mindful of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) in that regard.

Alongside that, I have asked the National Apprenticeship Service to work with the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils to tighten guidance for those who are developing apprenticeship frameworks to ensure that expectations on national standards and rigour are met, and to take action where frameworks are insufficiently stretching. In the current economic times, we must be more vigilant than ever to ensure that funding delivers value and is properly spent. I am mindful of the remarks of the Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. We must crack down when there is evidence that public money is not being spent properly. Action is in hand to review cases where there is concern. Our resolve is to ensure that every penny of public money delivers high-quality apprenticeships and to continue to weed out failure and weakness wherever they are found. I know that the Select Committee is about to launch an inquiry into apprenticeships. I will make the evidence available in my submissions to that inquiry, giving a clear timetable of action and details of the steps we intend to take to root out poor provision.

The Skills Funding Agency will tighten the contracts with colleges and other training providers to allow the immediate withdrawal of funding from provision where quality standards are not met. I am mindful of the comments of the former Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield.

Members are aware of the scale of the crisis in public spending that this Government inherited and of the sometimes painful measures that we have had to take to deal with that. The fact that even in these circumstances we have increased spending on apprenticeships is a clear demonstration of our belief in the economic and social value of this form of training, and in the talent and potential of our young people. On 17 November, we set out a clear commitment to focus growth where the returns are greatest, both in terms of age groups and sectors. For example, there is evidence that younger apprentices see the greatest benefits. We will expect the National Apprenticeship Service, employers and providers to focus their efforts on those groups. Accordingly, I am asking the National Apprenticeship Service to target more actively, through marketing and other operational levers, the learner groups, qualifications and sectors where apprenticeships deliver the greatest benefits.

In addition, to widen the effort to create more and better apprenticeship opportunities and to grow the programme among SMEs, from April 2012 we will offer up to 40,000 incentive payments of £1,500 for small employers who take on their first young apprentice. Sufficient funding was already available for next year to support at least 20,000 incentive payments in respect of apprenticeships for young people. An additional fund will be made available to support a further 20,000, meaning that in total there will be 40,000 incentive payments. The payments will be targeted to provide additional apprenticeship opportunities for young people who are ready for employment with small employers that have not been engaged with the programme previously.

I said at the beginning of my remarks that what distinguishes this Government from the previous one is that apprenticeships are at the heart—at the very core—of our approach to skills. We want to build a ladder of opportunity that stretches from re-engagement to the highest skilled levels, with apprenticeships filling a bigger space. We will redefine what we mean by higher learning. In future, our vision of higher learning will extend out from the university classroom or laboratory into the workplace. Because I want a vocational pathway as rigorous, accessible and progressive as the academic route, on 1 December we announced that £18.7 million from the higher apprenticeship fund will support the development of 19,000 new higher apprenticeships in key growth sectors, including construction, renewable energy, advanced engineering, insurance and financial services.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I am glad that my hon. Friend is setting out plans to increase higher apprenticeships, because for many young people that is a better route to successful employment than a university degree. For the benefit of the House, will he outline how many higher apprenticeships were created by the previous Government?

Mr Hayes: I do not want to be excessively critical of the previous Government. I made that clear at the outset. I said that I would not be more partisan than was necessary to illustrate the extent of our achievement.

In answer to my hon. Friend, let me point out that in 2008-09 there were fewer than 200 higher apprenticeships. With the announcements that have already been made and the relaunch of the higher apprenticeship fund in January for its next phase, I estimate that in this Parliament we will create 25,000 higher apprenticeship places. From 200 places to 25,000 is an extraordinary and remarkable achievement, for which the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, employers, learners and providers can take an immense amount of credit, and for which I can take just a little credit too.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I am very keen that the hon. Gentleman should get all the credit that he can. On that note, will he tell the House how many more young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed after the 18 months in which he has been in his role?

Mr Hayes: I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman might ask that question because I know of his genuine and deep-seated concern about these matters, so I had a look at the figures on NEETs over the period from 2000 to date. He will know that from 2004 the number of disengaged young people grew steadily, and that in the third quarter of 2009 it reached 925,000. He will understand that that is a structural problem that requires structural solutions, and that part of the solution is to recast how we train and educate young people and how we create opportunities of the type that I have described, so that we can not only re-engage them but allow them to progress.

The difference between our approach and that of the Labour Government—and, to be fair, previous Governments—is that for a time, apprenticeships may have been seen as a cul-de-sac rather than a highway. By creating the number of higher apprenticeships that I described, I am ensuring that there is a vocational pathway, so that far from being a cul-de-sac, apprenticeships are a route to higher learning that enables people to fulfil their potential. I am confident that our structural changes will help us to deal with a structural problem in a way that the last Government failed to do. I do not say that in an unnecessarily partisan way, but it is pretty surprising that even at a time when the economy was very strong, the number of young people not in education, employment or training remained persistently high and continued to grow.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Perhaps I can help by saying that in 1995-96, the number of young people starting an apprenticeship under the Conservative Government was a little over 20,000. The Tory Government did pump that up in their last few months and reached the amazing number of 65,000, but after 12 or 13 years of the last Labour Government, that number had increased to 280,000. I say that to be helpful to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid).

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is a former apprentice and is passionate about the subject, and on that basis I defer to his expertise and personal understanding of the subject. He will be as pleased as I am that apprenticeship numbers in his constituency have grown by 65%. I acknowledged at the outset that apprenticeship numbers grew under the last Government. Indeed, the former Prime Minister declared to the House in 2010 that there were 250,000 apprenticeships. Now there are nearly 440,000. That is the difference between Labour’s record and ours. I know that in the spirit of generosity that typifies all the hon. Gentleman does here, he will want to acknowledge that success when he speaks later.

The development of our new higher apprenticeships in key growth sectors, including construction, renewable energy, advanced engineering, insurance and financial services will allow about 250 employers, including Leyland Trucks, Unilever, TNT, Burberry and so on, to benefit from nationally accredited technical training delivered in the workplace. Higher apprenticeships have the potential to deliver higher-level skills tailored specifically to individual business requirements, and I am encouraged by the research produced at Greenwich university earlier this year showing that about 13% of apprentices progress into higher learning within four years of completing their apprenticeship. As I said a moment ago, we will deliver more than 25,000 higher apprenticeships in this Parliament.

There is much more that I could add to that catalogue of good news. I could wax even more lyrical about the scope and scale of our achievements, but I know that many Members want to speak and I am anxious not to impinge too much on their time. I know that when they speak, like those who have already intervened, they will want to reflect on how much has been achieved over recent months, not just in expanding the apprenticeship programme but in making it more responsive to the needs of employers and the aspirations of learners. Hon. Members will also be aware of how much remains to be done to ensure that we build on excellence, focus on quality, direct funding, link apprenticeships to growth and ensure that not only the macro-economic ambitions that I have set out but our social ambitions are achieved. That is the scale of what we want to achieve. We will be ever vigilant in raising standards and quality, cutting bureaucracy and prioritising areas in which returns and impact are greatest.

At a recent Business, Innovation and Skills questions, I asked all hon. Members who had not done so already to set an example by taking on an apprentice. Today, I ask for their engagement during national apprenticeship week, which starts on 7 February 2012.

To change our national prospects, we must change our view of what matters to each of us and all of us. Apprenticeships are an economic imperative, a social mission, a cultural crusade—such is the scope and scale of our ambitions. We want to reinvigorate practical, technical and vocational skills by reigniting the fire of learning. We want lives lit up by achievement, with a new generation of craftsmen shaping a bigger Britain and building a better future.