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As we have heard today from Members on both sides of the House, the debate is extremely welcome in what is currently a tough economic climate, especially for young people. I shall refer not only to this apprenticeship week but to the apprenticeship week that we shall celebrate in Scotland in May, so I shall get two bites at the cherry.
I served a formal indentured apprenticeship. That meant that I was tied to my employer for the first five years of my working life, for which I received an extra £5 a week. I am therefore well aware of the value of an apprenticeship, and I believe that it means more than just learning a skill or trade. Like many other Members, I have been working with companies in the constituency, encouraging them to consider taking on more apprentices and starting apprenticeship programmes themselves. It has been successful to a degree, and it is one of the reasons why we in Inverclyde have so far escaped the worst ravages of youth unemployment. That, however, is not the case in Scotland overall or, as we have heard, in the United Kingdom as a whole, where youth unemployment has never been higher. The country’s youth continue to bear the brunt of the lack of jobs in the UK. We desperately need to get our young people into training and apprenticeships. They must be given every possible opportunity to improve and hone the skills that they require in order to obtain jobs in the future.
As we have heard, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, in a report published in the autumn of 2012, gave its backing to public procurement to boost apprenticeships. That would create tens of thousands of jobs, and would help to alleviate some of the vast youth unemployment that is currently rife throughout the UK. I implemented a procurement policy in 2007, when I was leader of my council in Inverclyde, and that may be where the Government got the idea. When we were renewing our school estates, we saw the need not just to have new schools but to secure jobs and apprenticeships for the pupils, and we wrote that into our terms and conditions. It was very successful, which is one of the other reasons why youth unemployment is being kept low in Inverclyde. It fell then by over 20%. We asked firms not only to take on apprentices, but to commit themselves to a percentage of local labour.
In the private sector, I have been supporting technology, most recently the 4G network. This week our local mobile phone company, Everything Everywhere, announced the launch of 13 modern apprenticeships. It is committed to continuing to employ young people, and to introducing an apprenticeship programme that we hope will run for many years and give them long-term jobs.
Another initiative that has been extremely successful in Inverclyde is our award-winning Recruit programme. As we have heard from many Members today, schools need more than just brief career advice from industry. We brought schools and industry together, and young people gave up their time to participate in what was probably the longest interview that they would ever have. The initiative has been running for more than five years and has been extremely successful, putting tens of young people into jobs and giving them the best possible start in life. It has been replicated by some neighbouring authorities, and has been seen across Scotland as a trail blazer.