My Lords, reflecting on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, I was struck by the extraordinary scale of the challenge being faced by our Government over the coming Parliament. However, I was greatly encouraged to see that, alongside the dominant theme of Brexit, the commitment to developing the skills of our future workforce has not been lost. Our industrial strategy will ensure not only the creation of high-skilled, high-wage jobs but will develop the skilled workforce we need to fill those jobs, be they in big business, small business, high-speed rail, low-speed rail, electric cars, outer space or to build the houses that my noble friend Lord Naseby and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, want.
I realise that many of us in this fine place, with the exception of those who arrive through the old hereditary principle, know a bit about social mobility. As a consequence, like me they will welcome the proposal to reform technical education. These reforms will undoubtedly build on the commitment of successive Governments towards establishing parity of esteem for practical, technical skills through apprenticeships—skills beyond those that improve academic performance.
The creation of the new-style apprenticeships is shaping up to be nothing short of a revolution: a far-reaching change in the way in which we educate, motivate and upskill our young people and even inspire older workers to be more ambitious for their future careers. It is generally accepted—it is pretty much common knowledge—that the UK is experiencing a skills shortage, as my noble friend Lady Fookes mentioned earlier, with businesses across the board reporting difficulties in recruiting and developing young talent. Consequently, the creation of the Institute for Apprenticeships, made up of employer and industry experts from all sectors under the leadership of Antony Jenkins, provides a beacon of hope. It is an encouraging sign that we might bridge our nation’s skills gap and make social mobility a real prospect for young people struggling to get a start in life. I applaud the institute’s initiative to engage business leadership in a commitment to provide quality training to robust standards to millions of our young people.
Technical competence is, of course, critical for a high-skilled, high-wage workforce. High skills are vital if we are to compete effectively in the tough, global world of commerce and industry. However, we must take care to ensure that we match that technical competence with the rich personal life skills that are necessary to equip our young people to be active citizens, enthusiastic and able team players and fulfilled human beings, not automatons.
My experience of achieving the perfect storm of youth development wins has been through the work of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in supporting the apprenticeship schemes of many enlightened and successful companies, including household names such as British Gas and Royal Mail. At this point, I should declare my interest as chairman of the highly successful Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme that last year, in 2016 its diamond anniversary year, had a record 420,000 young people actively working towards achieving an award.
Key corporate supporters of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award have recognised that the classic D of E programme, when added to their own apprenticeship development programmes, produces not only an unrivalled result for their young recruits but measurable bottom-line benefits to their businesses, too. These companies discovered that apprentices who achieved the D of E gold award also displayed greater commitment to their employer and were more often fast-tracked and promoted than their peers. They also demonstrated self-confidence, self-motivation, commitment and that they cared—they cared about themselves, their communities and the businesses that employed them. Those businesses, incidentally, experienced higher retention rates, too.
My hope is that, as the shape of the new apprenticeship evolves and the impact of the significant additional financial resources business is contributing via the apprenticeship levy is felt, a place will be found for vital life-skills development alongside those critical technical skills. Employers are telling me that their hope is that they can apply a small element of their levy fund to enable them to introduce a proven programme, such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, to fully round off and complete the apprenticeship experience.
This Government are a strong advocate of young people, and continuing government support and incentives are key in helping encourage business to provide the ladder of opportunity that develops ambition. If the UK really is open for business, then a first-class workforce and first-class management in those who direct them is fundamental for a first-class commercial trading nation. There is no more important priority for this or, indeed, any Government than promoting economic and social policies that allow every citizen of the United Kingdom to make the most of their abilities and talents because, for sure, jealously, division and anger flourish in an environment where people feel deprived and excluded from the possibilities of personal improvement.
I commend the Queen’s Speech for its focus on what matters in these challenging times—promoting actions that unite rather than divide us. I am delighted that the development of our young people’s work and life skills, so essential for prosperity and happiness, remains in sharp focus for our Government.