One of the best parts of my role as Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships is having the chance to meet talented young people across the country. Last month, I was privileged to see some of our nation’s apprentices and young people putting their skills to action as they competed at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. The competition was tough, pitting Team UK against competitors from 65 nations in 30 skills categories, including aircraft maintenance, mobile robotics, engineering, patisserie cooking and landscape gardening.
This is the most prestigious and high-profile event of its kind in the world, and I can’t even begin to describe the immense pressure our competitors were under. Not only were they competing against the most talented young people in their field, their every move was scrutinised by world-leading industry experts and they competed non-stop over three to four days.
I am delighted to say that Team UK were more than up to the task, winning seven medals and finishing 11th overall. If their performance was anything to go by then we should be excited about what the youth of today can bring to our country. I want to congratulate each and every member of our team for their incredible dedication and effort. They have served as ambassadors for UK skills and their achievements will serve as inspiration for their peers taking up technical qualifications and apprenticeships up and down the country.
But there is a wider, important message here – their success demonstrates how getting skills right can change lives. It is absolutely right that this is sitting front and centre of all the government wants to achieve. But we can only achieve this through genuine partnership with business and providers.
As the Minister for Skills in England, I want to make sure that our country thrives and prospers, with the highly skilled individuals that our businesses need to give them their competitive advantage in a fiercely challenging world marketplace. I also want all young people to go as far as their talents can take them, whether they take an academic path or a technical one.
Central to this is putting technical education firmly on a par with other routes to employment.
We know that the route through school and on to university is clear and well respected. Our reforms to GCSE and A-levels will make sure that this path remains world class. However, we have previously seen too many courses of varying quality and value for those who want to follow a different path into employment. A confusion of qualifications makes it harder for learners to find the right course or be confident they will learn what they need to get a good job.
We have already taken the first steps to address this – with major reforms to the quality of apprenticeships; doubling investment to £2.5bn by 2019-20 and with over 1m people starting an apprenticeship since May 2015 – supporting our aim to achieve 3m high-quality apprenticeships starts by 2020. But this is only the beginning.
Our new T-levels, announced earlier this month, will be the next major step in finally addressing this imbalance. I have announced that the first T-levels to be taught in 2020 will be Digital, Construction, and Education and Childcare. They will be on a par with Britain’s world-class A-levels, with the full set of T-levels to be up and running by 2022.
T-levels will be new prestigious courses, developed with the help of top firms like Rolls Royce, IBM and Fujitsu, Lloyds, Morgan Sindall, Skanska and Morphy Richards to name a few. Building on the reforms to apprenticeships, they represent a real employer-led approach to making sure we get skills right.
T-levels are about providing the skills our high-flying businesses need. Equally, they put young people on a clear path to acquiring the skills that employers are crying out for. Every student taking a T-level will not only undertake a rigorous programme of study, but also a high-quality work placement to put what they have learnt in the classroom into practice. This will give learners an invaluable experience of industry and the real transferable skills that employers need.
It is important to me that T-levels are seen by students as a realistic route into employment. We will be investing £500m per year into T-levels, once all the courses are up and running, to make sure this happens.
We will be publishing an Industrial Strategy which will set out how we will tackle regional disparities and drive local growth. This will help to rebalance the economy on a regional level across the country. But there is more to do. I am calling on employers and businesses to get involved. Skills reform is challenging and we will need your help to get it right.
Our prestigious new Institutes of Technology will allow employers to play a key role in delivering the skills our economy will need as we prepare to leave the European Union. We need look no further than the brilliance of Team UK at the WorldSkills competition to understand what is possible through skills and apprenticeships. They competed on the world stage and have exciting futures ahead of them. By building one team for skills with employers and educators we can ensure the same is true for all of our young people. If you are a parent, teacher or an employer then grasp this opportunity with both hands.