Posted by

Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise

21 Jan 2014

I know that Jo Swinson was delighted to attend the “Business Is Good for Young People” Christmas Parliamentary Reception at the Houses of Commons.  I’m equally delighted to step in and write the blog, now that Jo’s on maternity leave.  This is teamwork in action. She told me that the event was brilliantly organised and gave her the opportunity to meet so many young people - some still at school, some that currently doing Apprenticeships. Just before Christmas we saw that youth unemployment figures were down by 19,000 in the previous three months. That’s good news, even though no-one’s pretending that’s anywhere near the position we want to reach. It won’t happen by exhortation, but by business growth and through putting employers in the driving seat on skills. These two are inextricably linked. We’re giving employers control as we reform apprenticeships, raising standards in schools and colleges at the same time as expanding the numbers available. We’ve listened to the arguments about the need to raise the confidence and esteem in vocational qualifications and responded by removing recognition from low value qualifications to build a robust and respected progression route from intermediate skills to professional careers.

I think the measures we are taking to improve English and Maths should be given a special mention. British Chambers and its members have been saying for years that finding good English and Maths skills is one of the most challenging problems employers face in growing their businesses.  And they have been quite right.  Only 20% of students in England study Maths after GCSE. In Germany it is over 90%, in the USA 65%. Maths skills are the basis for so many others – skills for engineering or innovation, for example - and are a key component for a vocational education system which can compete successfully in the global race. That is why students must now work towards achieving grade A*-C GCSEs in English and Maths post-16 if they haven’t already done so. We have introduced new challenging Maths requirements into apprenticeships and traineeships as part of our reforms to ensure that they are trusted by employers and are setting young people on the road to fulfilling and rewarding careers.

In the middle of the most difficult times businesses have faced, they are still asking us regularly how they can support young people more in their local schools, colleges and communities - which is fantastic.  Here is one way they can do so: post-16, we are giving education providers the freedom and flexibility they need to expand their work experience provision, to release students for work experience and to work more closely with employers on the qualifications they offer, particularly for those who want to excel.  To enable our new study programmes and Traineeships to work as we envisage them, we want local businesses to come forward with work placements as one of the best ways of getting the soft employability skills that help make schoolchildren work ready.  You can do this by contacting your local school, college or training provider, or the National Apprenticeships Service for Traineeships. It’s important as it will help tackle youth unemployment,and to achieve a respected, high status vocational education route. 

Building a resilient sustainable economy is also about supporting small and ambitious businesses. BIS prizes its role as a champion of small business – helping people to start their own businesses and making it easier to help them grow. Small Business: GREAT Ambition, published in December, sets out our commitment to make it easier for small businesses to develop new ideas and products, expand into new markets, finance growth and hire the people they need.  We’re reducing regulation that holds companies back and making sure businesses get the right support at the right time. All our commitments directly respond to the feedback we’ve received from aspirational small businesses along with what the government can do to help and make it easier for them to fulfil their potential.    


All views expressed in guest blogs are that of the authors, and not of the British Chambers of Commerce.