To increase productivity we need to deliver the higher level, technical and intermediate-level skills that employers demand, as we have just heard. Our approach is to create a responsive, employer-led system of higher vocational education through expanding higher and degree apprenticeships and creating national colleges and institutes of technology.
We have a shortage of technical skills, not least in engineering and construction. According to employers, the Government’s focus on the number of apprenticeships amounts to little more than a re-badging of existing in-work training courses. When will the Government take the necessary action to deliver the high skills that are needed to boost productivity, growth and living standards in this country?
That gives me an opportunity to highlight the legacy of 13 years of Labour Government, when hardly anything was done to boost the skills of our people, particularly young people, in every sector. This Government have changed that. We saw progress under the coalition Government. As I said earlier, we will focus on higher apprenticeships, we will have national colleges and we will set up a prestigious network of institutes of technology.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Senior Aircraftman Shayne Hadland on winning a silver medal for aircraft maintenance at the WorldSkills competition in Sao Paulo and on being named best of nation for the United Kingdom? Does that not illustrate the importance of good technical skills and how the RAF is providing them?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Shayne Hadland. It was a huge achievement to win such a prize at the WorldSkills competition—I know just how competitive it was. Luckily for Britain, we had many other winners and I congratulate them too. It is an inspiration to many people.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to improve the level of technical skills in the west midlands would be to get behind the proposals from the region’s local authorities and local enterprise partnerships for a combined authority and elected mayor with devolved skills budgets to improve skills, bring former industrial sites back into use, provide more housing and better transport links, and get the economy of the west midlands really moving?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the proposal for a west midlands combined authority looks exciting and should be taken seriously. Obviously, the Government are considering all the proposals and need to look at their merits. I have met a number of people behind that proposal and it would be great to see whether we can work together and bring it forward.
Dorset Young Enterprise is a voluntary organisation that goes into schools to help improve skills with local employers. I declare an interest as someone who has worked within Dorset Young Enterprise. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such organisations are vital in closing the skills gap and ensuring that young people leave school ready to start work?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that Dorset Young Enterprise and many groups like it throughout the country are doing a hugely important and vital job in closing the skills gap. The Government could look at how we can support that not just in Dorset but throughout the country. He is absolutely right to raise this matter.