23/12/2014 01:42 GMT | Updated 21/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Good, But Could Do Better

The shopping is done, the presents are wrapped and plans have been made. Yes, Christmas is just around the corner. And before we know it, we'll be toasting in the New Year.

People say things tend to quieten down for businesses around this time of year, but this certainly hasn't been the case in the skills and employment arena. Quite the opposite, in fact.

First we celebrated the two millionth apprentice. Then came the Autumn Statement, with the promise of cutting National Insurance contributions for apprentices. An announcement about a new careers advice service swiftly followed.

And then last week of course, we saw the unemployment statistics, showing yet another fall overall.

So all in all, a good end to the year, right?

Not quite. If we look more closely at the unemployment statistics, we see that there was seemingly little change in youth unemployment. Ok, so it could be worse, and we could have seen an increase. But stagnating figures are still cause for concern.

Making a difference in the long-term

The recent announcements around apprenticeships and the new careers service show policymakers want to help young people wherever possible. With the General Election right around the corner, it's important that the current impetus for supporting young people into work isn't lost.

So how do we do this?

Firstly, we need to see long-term, non-partisan decisions. When it comes to apprenticeships, all parties have expressed their support for them. Whatever the result in May, it's a safe bet that apprenticeships will continue to see investment. This is great - but if you look back over the past few decades, as we did in our recent report, Sense & Instability, policymakers have a tendency to make changes for the sake of headlines, rather than for the greater good.

All parties need to work together to keep our skills system stable, sustainable and effective.

Secondly, policymakers need to operate on a more local level. Take the new careers advice service for example. £20 million is being invested into it to build links between schools and businesses. The hope is that it'll open young people's eyes to all the options available - not just university. This is exactly what we need to see.

But for it to be truly effective, it needs to work with the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and use labour market information to map out where the jobs are - and likewise which industries will be recruiting.

Thinking about the bigger picture

We often hear about skills gaps and the risks they bring to industry. In fact, joint research from CBI and Accenture launched this week shows that skills gaps are the biggest threat to the UK's competitiveness.

That's why policymakers need to make sure we're helping young people into the workplace, and into those areas that are crying out for skilled workers. We have seen so much progress over the past few years. Let's keep up that momentum.

We can't predict what will happen in May, but I really hope that all parties recognise that this is one issue that needs to stay as a priority.