Since I first became an MP, one of the issues I’ve championed is tackling youth unemployment, because I want every young person to get the best possible start in life, and I’ve always said that quality, learning and skills-based apprenticeships are a fantastic way to do this.
In fact, one of the first things I did when I was elected was to work with the council to set out a plan to create 1,000 apprenticeships in 1,000 days, and I’m incredibly proud that we’re on track to achieve this.
As well as providing young people with the skills and work-place experience they need to progress in the career they choose, apprenticeships are also highly important for our country’s economy. The UK is currently struggling with a skills shortage, and productivity is approximately 15 per cent below that of other G7 countries.
The UK’s economic growth is also currently the slowest in the G7, and according to research by the Open University, skills shortages in Britain are costing businesses more than £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing.
The Government has spoken about tackling these issues by increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships, and they have promised to create three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. However, the Department for Education recently revealed that the number of workers starting apprenticeships has actually fallen by a massive 59 per cent since April, making it very unlikely that this target will be reached.
I think this is extremely worrying, and a number of employers, businesses and trade associations have also expressed their concern. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we are entering tricky territory, and we might find that companies struggle to secure investment and recruits from abroad with the right skills. Now more than ever, we must make sure that we are doing everything we can to invest in training to create a workforce with the right skills for today’s economy.
This is an issue which cannot wait, and I will be continuing to do everything I can to keep this issue high on the Government’s agenda, by speaking to Ministers, by listening and learning from colleges and training providers as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Further Education and Lifelong Learning, and by working with my Labour colleagues to raise the issue in Parliament.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.