March 4, 2014

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The latest unemployment statistics show that across the country more than 900,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are now out of work. 

We are sleep walking into a youth unemployment crisis and we are in real danger of seeing a lost generation left on the scrap heap - as we did in the 1980s.

We, as a country, need to be doing more to help young people to get the training they need to find work and really compete with people from other nations.

That is why we need to see a return to proper apprenticeships which saw people get fully trained up in the trade they wanted to work in.

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which was set up by the Labour Government in 2008 as part of its commitment to apprenticeships.

Labour's commitment saw the number of apprenticeship starts rise dramatically from 65,000 in 1996/97 to just under 280,000 in 2009/10.

Now, as we are plunging headlong into a youth unemployment crisis, it is more important than ever that the government does more to help firms create the apprenticeship opportunities young people desperately need.

But I am not talking about the sham apprenticeships that too many of our young people are finding themselves on now. I have spoken to young constituents who have told me about the schemes they have been signed up to which have seen them carrying out menial tasks for the space of a few months, or even a few weeks, with no sign of any proper training, guidance or qualification at the end.

I am talking about a return to the skilled apprenticeships of the past which saw Britain lead the way when it came to engineering, mechanics, construction and so on.

Only by returning to investing in our young so they can take a step up on the first rung of a quality career, will we see Britain again be able to compete.

Labour has used National Apprenticeship Week to announce our plans to build on the work of our independent Skills Taskforce. We will create a new universal standard for apprenticeships so that they are qualifications that employers and young people can trust. And we’ve also called on the government to use the money which it already spends on public procurement to create thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities.

Good quality apprenticeships are of enormous benefit, not only for each apprentice but also for the businesses training them. They can fill a skills gap and allow businesses the opportunity to tailor their workforce around their specific needs. They also offer real returns to businesses through increased productivity and competitiveness. 

And for the apprentices themselves there is the opportunity to learn on the job, build up knowledge and skills, gain qualifications and earn money all at the same time. They also gain excellent prospects for the future because they have the knowledge and experience that employers really value.

If we want Britain to compete, if we want a strong economy for now and for the future, we need to invest in our young.

An investment in Britain's young is an investment in Britain's future.