HC Deb 09 December 1980 vol 995 cc773-4
5. Mr. Cadbury

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what additional steps he proposes to take to ensure that young people have sufficient skills for industry's future needs.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

This year some 25,000 apprenticeships are receiving aid from the Manpower Services Commission, and on 21 November my right hon. Friend announced a major expansion of the youth opportunities programme, which helps to prepare unemployed young people for working life, and an acceleration in the unified vocational preparation pregramme for employed young people. The Government and the MSC are currently considering what further action might be taken to equip young people for industry's future needs.

Mr. Cadbury

While welcoming the Government's recent moves to expand and improve the quality of the youth opportunities programme, may I ask my hon. and learned Friend to say what progress is being made to encourage industry and unions to move away from an apprenticeship system which is based more on time saving than on the achievement of certain basic standards?

Mr. Mayhew

The achievement of basic standards to equip young people for a life in industry is very important. The unified vocational preparation programme, which began in 1977 on an experimental basis, is being developed by the Manpower Services Commission, with the encouragement of my right hon. Friend. That programme provides training for young people in work aged between 16 and 18 years, and we regard it as being jest as important in its way as the youth opportunities programme.

Mr. Golding

Is the Minister aware that, given the dramatic drop in apprentice recruitment this year, the number of 25,000 places is totally inadequate? Will the Department resolve to do better next year?

Mr. Mayhew

We shall have to wait to see how resources turn out. We shall be guided by what the Manpower Services Commission has to say in that regard. The 25,000 apprenticeships at present aided by the Manpower Services Commission include 1,700 that were added to the programme in response to the rise in youth unemployment.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Allowing for the exceptional and exceptionally important work being done in the application of microelectronics in schools in the Birmingham area, would my hon. and learned Friend care to estimate what proportion of the secondary school population of the United Kingdom is receiving some familiarisation with the technology on which their employment in the next two decades is most likely to depend?

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend puts his finger on a vitally important matter. About half our secondary schools now have access to computer technology training. That is not nearly enough, and the number should be increased.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister accept that, useful though the youth opportunities programme is, it is no substitute for real training in industry? Will he take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that, if we are to train to meet industry's future needs, the State should provide further cash incentives because of the poor financial position of industry at present?

Mr. Mayhew

What the hon. Gentleman describes as real training in industry is very important, and it is exactly the subject of the unified vocational preparation scheme, under which employers receive incentive payments for a trainee spending a day or a block of days training away from work and, in some cases, also for workplace training. By July 1979, about 3,000 young people had taken part in that scheme. Two industry training boards — the rubber and plastics board and the distributive industry board — have introduced substantial schemes of their own.