2 February 2016
Nadhim Zahawi backs Enterprise Bill which will expand apprenticeships in the public sector

Nadhim Zahawi backs the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill particularly measures which will expand apprenticeships in the public sector.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)

I thank the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) for at least being supportive of the apprenticeship agenda. Let us see whether she votes for the Bill tonight. I support the Bill and would like to congratulate the Minister for Skills on the excellent measures relating to apprenticeships. He took the time last week to speak at the national apprenticeship awards, which, as the Prime Minister’s adviser on apprenticeships, I hosted. The Minister showed the commitment of this Government to recognising the brilliant achievements of existing apprentices and the desire to spread those opportunities even more widely.

I start by mentioning the national apprenticeship awards because they are a perfect illustration of the success that apprentices can achieve, and this Bill will play a key part in expanding that success even further. The event was attended by more than 800 apprentices and business people, all of whom had come together to celebrate. It was a celebration of what an apprenticeship had done for them personally or for their business—even though the great and the good of Great Britain plc and the future stars of our economy had to sit through almost five hours of me co-hosting the event.

I can share with the House the fact that the overriding emotion of that evening was huge optimism. There was optimism about the great careers stretching out before those apprentices, the extent of which those young people were just starting to glimpse for themselves. There was optimism about the new, well-skilled workforce that is pushing businesses to the next level, and about the better products and greater services that those apprenticeships can help to create. It was a humbling moment standing in that room and seeing what apprenticeships can do for both apprentices and businesses. This Bill is all about extending these opportunities.

One nation Conservatism—compassionate Conservatism —has to be, at its root, about providing opportunity: an opportunity for everyone, wherever they have come from, whoever they are, whatever they dream of doing or being, to be provided with the resources they need to achieve that. Great Britain is a country of great opportunity. We sometimes forget that much too easily, but I know it so well, having come from Iraq to being a Member of this House. I want everyone—every single person in this country—to have the opportunities I had. This Bill provides the measures to ensure that the next generation can find opportunity in this country, through apprenticeships, a route often as good, if not much better, than a traditional university degree.

I am delighted by the measures in this Bill to expand apprenticeships in the public sector and protect the quality of the brand.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying about apprenticeships, but does he also accept that there must be a rebalancing and that that cannot be at the expense of public sector workers? It has to be done thoughtfully and in a fair way.

Nadhim Zahawi

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I will address the public sector element of what I think is a very positive measure in a moment.

As someone who worked in marketing in a previous life, I know that when trying to sell something to someone, it is very important that the product is high quality. That is why I congratulate the Minister on adding legal protection to the term “apprenticeship”. It is vital that that is done; apprenticeships must be aspirational, and any misuse of this word on low-quality courses can be extremely damaging. Both the apprentice and the employer are let down by poor-quality courses, and have their time wasted. Even worse, it could mean that they are put off from being involved in the apprenticeships agenda ever again. Even a small minority can damage the brand and detract from the majority of good news stories which should be shining through. In my work as the co-chair of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, I have spent time speaking to many businesses, both small and large, and I have found that there is a real appetite to hire apprentices, bring younger people into the company and protect the skills base for years to come. We cannot let them down with poor quality and chip away at this good will.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the public sector, and the 2.3% public sector apprenticeship target is equally important. As we move towards achieving 3 million apprenticeship starts, it is only right that the public sector delivers its fair share. The public sector employs 16% of England’s workforce but lags behind on apprenticeships, and that is a real shame. There are many brilliant careers both in this country and on offer in our public sector. I am delighted that apprentices will be given a route into our civil service and have this great opportunity provided to them. But this is not just about providing opportunities for apprentices; I believe this provides a huge benefit to the civil service itself.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in order to achieve that higher level of apprenticeship and to create the apprenticeships themselves, there needs to be a working relationship between further education colleges, universities and the business community?

Nadhim Zahawi

That is absolutely right, and the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is why we are organising a roadshow for FE colleges so that best practice can be shared. The Secretary of State has met all the universities, including the Russell Group ones, to explain to them the opportunity here, in both the public sector and the private sector. Degree apprenticeships are going to be a massive opportunity for our universities and for our public sectors. Employers have told me that they are likely to run graduate recruitment alongside apprenticeships, as a means of using the apprenticeship levy funds. That is a real opportunity for universities, because a lot of those employers will be looking for degree apprenticeships. They want to hire the best people as apprentices at a young age, getting them into their company earlier, so that they can develop their skills, build loyalty and enhance productivity. It would be a real shame if the public sector lost out on those talented men and women by not offering enough places and not competing for that talent. I am a firm believer that for any organisation, the most important resource is the human resource.

Good government requires excellent people. Apprenticeships are key to ensuring that that resource remains strong and that the public sector can compete for talent. We must remember that 3 million apprenticeship starts are 3 million chances—3 million opportunities to expand one’s skills, to get a real job, to earn a wage, to contribute, to take part and to get on and do better. The measures in the Bill are vital in meeting that target and we must welcome them. I am delighted to support them tonight.

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