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The great majority of young people in Sutton Coldfield and across the UK are either employed or in full-time education, but there are still too many who do not have the opportunity to meet their aspirations or fulfil their potential. At present almost 670,000 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed and not in full-time study. Although this figure compares favourably with previous recessions there is evidence of a long term structural problem for certain groups of young people. Despite record levels of spending, youth unemployment actually increased during Labour’s years in government. It is clear that if Britain is to compete in today’s market we must have a highly trained and highly skilled workforce.

The Government is therefore committed to a new approach that will broaden opportunity by ensuring that everyone has access to the experience and training they need to succeed.

The latest data shows that the Government has delivered 326,700 apprenticeship starts in the first nine months of the 2010/11 academic year – this is 114,000 more than the previous year and more than double our original ambition. The growth has been across sectors, at all ages and all levels.

This achievement means that the Government has met the targets set by Gordon Brown that Labour failed to reach. In his 2003 Budget speech, Chancellor Brown announced that apprenticeships would ‘rise to 320,000 by 2006’. But even in the last year of his Premiership there were only 279,000 starts. The annual increase in apprenticeships in our first nine months in Government is bigger than the total increase Labour managed over the previous seven years.

Labour failed because they wasted resources on the ill-conceived Train to Gain scheme. In 2009 the National Audit Office concluded that Train to Gain ‘had not provided good value for money.’

That is why one of the first announcements the Coalition made was that the Government would redeploy £150 million of Train to Gain funding to deliver an additional 50,000 adult Apprenticeships. A commitment to apprenticeships which was reinforced by the Chancellor in the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Budget.

The growth we have achieved proves that employers recognise apprenticeships to be a sound platform for long term economic prosperity. To build on this work we are now focusing on encouraging firms who haven’t taken on an apprentice before to do so and helping those who have to expand their programmes particularly at Advanced and Higher Levels. I hope that this year’s expansion is part of a real change in attitudes towards the recruitment of apprentices.

The significant progress on Apprenticeships is part of the Government’s wider programme of reform of further education and skills. This will make a crucial contribution in securing sustainable economic growth and will help young people in to work from Sutton Coldfield and across the country.

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