Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson). His point at the end on not wanting to waste potential is key to the debate and to the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), which I rise to support.
I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this subject, on which I have heard him speak on numerous occasions. His own career path has taken him through a wide range of training providers and led him to these green Benches. His Bill is an excellent set of proposals that supports the aspiration of extending opportunity to all. It would require that all state-funded schools in England provide careers guidance for children for the entirety of their secondary education. That is the right thing to do, because the evidence tells us that starting young is key to making careers advice work and stick as a catalyst for the people it is aimed at. Aligning our legislative framework with the Gatsby benchmarks would put us on the right footing to deal with not just the challenges that young people face as a result of covid but future challenges, which we know are many and varied. We have a changing employment scene, and people will have to continually upgrade their skills, pivoting right or left—whichever way they might have to go—and this approach would set them on that learning path early doors, which we should encourage and support.
We all know that skills are the most essential thing that people can gain these days. When I was at school, it was presented as a binary choice—either go to university or do not—but now the framework is different. The paths to be followed to a successful career are very different indeed. I have worked in charities, run a small business, worked for a large corporate and worked for small and medium-sized enterprises, and at each stage I learnt something new. That helped me with my career progression. It is essential that we embed that principle in young people as much as we can. Let my example be a warning to anyone that if they spend their tender years—and perhaps not so tender years—not knowing what they want to be when they grow up, they may end up here lecturing people.
The Careers and Enterprise Company ran a survey last year and discovered that almost three quarters of school and college leavers believe that careers education has become even more important because of covid and that they are prioritising it more as a result. High quality careers education is crucial, and evidence shows that it is linked to higher academic attainment in terms of both motivation and exam results, with those who know what they are aiming for and how to get there working harder and being more motivated to get to it. That leads to increased wages on entering the workplace, reduced chances of being not in education, employment or training and a better alignment of careers aspirations with the labour market. My hon. Friend is so right to be aiming towards that.
I will give a real-world example of why that matters, why it is important and why it works. Furness College, based in my constituency, is one of the top-placed colleges for apprenticeship recruitment. Figures from 2020—not 1920—show an increase of more than 12% in students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds taking up apprenticeships in that year. The college trains more than 700 apprentices each year in 20 sectors, with more than 80 apprenticeships to choose from. It genuinely pitches its apprenticeships to the labour market meaning that students entering the college have a higher certainty of getting a job and the right skills to go on not just to a job but to a job beyond that and solid career progression. The college has a dedicated team of development coaches who work with employers to ensure that they are helping to meet training needs. The coaches can often help in accessing skills grants, so the funding piece is supported, too.
That is all good stuff, but it shows how important it is to build those links between industry and education. As many hon. Members have said, we really need to embed aspiration at an early age, when people can see the direct link between a career they hope to get to and how they can accumulate the skills they need to get there. That is what the Bill seeks to unlock, and that is why I am so keen to give it my support.
The Bill is the missing piece from the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper, sitting alongside commitments to help people find a career that is right for them, providing a cohesive careers system, clear information and signposting and the right infrastructure to deliver that strategy. With young people more than ever facing uncertain career prospects, they need help from schools to access education, training and careers opportunities to navigate the careers market. Crucial as this Bill is, it is worth noting that it comprises only one strand of a thick bowstring of activity being supported by this Government at the moment. Many Members have mentioned the kickstart scheme, which provides funding to create six-month jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit. I wish to highlight the work of one provider in my constituency, Right2Work, for which I have a particular soft spot. It helps young people with complex needs through supported internships. It is a back-breaking piece of work trying to find jobs for some of these young people and supporting them into them, but thanks to the kickstart scheme they have been got into not only supported internships, but work. That builds confidence and it gives them skills and a route to grow further. So I wish to pay tribute to the remarkable and, frankly, life-changing work that that provider does.
We also have youth hubs springing up around the country. I am glad that I will be at the opening of my local one on 30 September in Barrow. This crucial work is supported in large part by the Department for Work and Pensions, and the work that my local DWP and jobcentre team are doing is remarkable. They seem to be unrelenting in their efforts to reach out, find more young people and give them access to the skills and training they need to be supported. I should also pay tribute to other similar local organisations in Barrow and Furness: Inspira is also linking skills, jobs and young people together; and the Furness Future Leaders’ Academy and Bright Stars are helping young people to gain skills and confidence, in terms of not only leadership, but how to run a campaign and get engaged in their community, and why and how they can spot issues that matter, run with them and gain skills with them. This mix and matrix is equipping young people incredibly well. I wish I had been through a similar environment when I was growing up. This is a good and important Bill. It will help to close that attainment gap that bedevils constituencies such as mine, and I am very happy to support it for that reason.