John Stevenson: As we all know, the future is all about a good education and having the right skills. If we are to have a prosperous and successful nation, we need our education and training systems to be first class and competitive. The same applies to individuals: if they are to thrive, they must be provided with the opportunities to do so. Education and skills can be a great leveller. A modern economy also demands a much higher degree of skilled workers than ever before. The jobs of the future will require people to be better trained and have the requisite skills, and we must also be aware that the skills and jobs of tomorrow may be very different from those of today.
We also know that rising living standards and greater wealth only come from a more productive economy. Improving our national productivity will require innovation, investment and a skilled workforce. In January, I will be hosting my eighth skills fair in Carlisle. It was first set up at the behest of local employers and training providers in the area and is supported by such businesses as McVitie’s, Nestlé, Pirelli and Center Parcs. The key point is that they wanted a skills fair, not a jobs fair; those and other businesses recognise that it is skills that matter. I therefore fully support the direction in which the Government want to go and the improvements they want to see.
I appreciate that the Bill covers a number of policy and administrative areas, but I want to pick up on just two points. First, it is absolutely right that all pupils and students are made aware of all the training and educational opportunities and possibilities open to them: academic, technical and apprenticeships. We are fortunate to have a quality university sector and the university option is clearly important, but other training opportunities are of equal importance. Indeed it is arguable that technical training and apprenticeships are almost more vital if we are to improve the performance of our economy. That will be required if we are to become competitive in the global economy so it is absolutely right that all institutions have a duty to make sure that students have all options.
Secondly, it is vital that employers, and indeed local leaders, are at the centre of the skills system—and it must be local employers. They know what skills are needed and the training and courses required, they know the local economy and they know where the jobs of tomorrow are likely to be created. A real partnership between business and training providers can be the blueprint for a better skilled and trained workforce that benefits the individual as well as our country.