Give firms more input

COMMENT: Sell alcohol to kids and you will face consequences

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Last week I took part in a Parliamentary debate on the employment of young people.

Tackling the skills gap is high on everyone’s agenda at the moment. That’s because Britain today is in a global race – to succeed we must have a lean, efficient economy and an aspirational, highly-skilled workforce.

Every era has its valuable commodity. Over past centuries this has tended to be ‘mineral’ – salt, iron ore and oil, to name a few. But not any more. The most valuable commodity in today’s global marketplace is an educated workforce.

Our international competitors get it. One billion Indians and 1.3bn Chinese understand that, by investing in their youngsters, they are giving themselves the best possible prospect of future prosperity.

So what can we do to ensure that we are right up there, jostling for our place in the world market?

It’s not just about bringing back higher standards and discipline to our schools.

It’s about better matching the output of our educational establishments to the needs of employers, and moving away from the recent trend of herding 50 per cent of students into university regardless of whether that degree had any long-term prospect of getting them a better job.

That’s why we are improving opportunities for vocational training. A record 500,000 people started an apprenticeship last year.

In Gosport alone we had the second-highest number of apprentices in the whole south east – 2,040.

But we must also think about how we give employers more input into the way education is delivered.