“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” That is the theory of the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin. That theory is now very relevant, because we are facing a technological revolution. We have recently seen the rise and fall of various technologies, from Polaroid and PalmPilot to vinyl and video. The pace of change is so extreme that economists predict that two thirds of children starting school today will be in jobs that do not yet exist. The countries that can adapt and change will be the most successful.
As the Chancellor highlighted, in order to give our children the best opportunities, we need to think carefully about how we train them. That training must not only encompass the ability to write, read and calculate, and include the capacity for thought, judgment and responsibility; it must also incorporate the practical, technical training needed to support our local economies.
As I represent an area with a thriving bio and agri-tech industry, I am delighted by the Chancellor’s focus on the importance of technical education, because his announcement in and of itself recognises the value of those skills. He is right to identify their worth, in circumstances where ICM Research states that employers rate higher apprentices as 25% more employable than others. His proposal to streamline such qualifications, putting them on a par with academic qualifications, makes them of equal weight and more comprehensible to employers. His announcement of £500 million a year to give 16 to 19-year-olds the necessary technical skills is also most welcome.
For many years we have talked about technical education. Today the Chancellor has given it the support and respect it deserves, but should we go further and be even more ambitious? Responding to change, linking up with business and inspiring innovation should start not as children leave their formal education, but much earlier, in our primary and secondary schools. That needs to be facilitated by our dedicated teaching workforce. We need to link up our businesses with our teachers and to incentivise our innovative and technological industries to play a role in supporting, training and informing teachers of the work they are doing at the cutting edge of industry. When we fully embrace this, we will truly become a flexible, responsive and competitive country.