With National Apprenticeship Week in full swing last week, and since youth unemployment remains at 20%, it's more important than ever that we do everything we can to help young people into work. I'm an example of how an apprenticeship can give you a job for life after joining British Gas as an apprentice 34 years ago, back in 1980, and now I run our six training academies across the UK training the engineers of tomorrow.
A new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Micro Business has called for better integration of entrepreneurial skills at all levels of education. It's a good report that suggests combining the best of Government, academia, the business community and charitable initiatives to achieve a coordinated programme.
In the last month we have heard the news that youth unemployment fell by around 20,000 in the three months up to May. There is clearly a long way to go but people seem to be feeling a bit more optimistic about the job market for the first time in years. It feels great to know that more people are finding work and gaining the experience, not to mention self-confidence, that they need. However, while finding a job can be a great boost, especially if someone has been struggling to gain employment, it doesn't mean that happiness automatically follows.
Our research further highlighted that outdated views are still prevalent with nearly half of parents (48 per cent) thinking that apprenticeships are geared more towards boys than girls and almost a third (32 per cent) thinking they are for less academically able young people. This is certainly not the case.
At the end of each summer, with school leavers becoming freshers, I watch the 'university debate' with interest. More than ever, it seems that students are being encouraged to further their study and gain a degree. This is despite the reports of rising tuition fees, raging student debts and a current vacuum in the job market for graduate careers.
Too much teaching is seen as getting students through tests rather than giving them a real understanding of what maths is about and so preparing them for the next stage of education, work and life. Teachers have become more aware of the need to improve students' problem-solving and investigative skills, but rarely integrate that into the way children learn.
Record high youth unemployment statistics have sparked much debate about education today. Universities, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships have been making headlines, with much discussion about their value and the role they play in our society. It's a minefield of confusing and contradictory messages for school leavers and their parents.