25/04/2014 07:58 BST | Updated 24/06/2014 06:59 BST

A Drop in Youth Unemployment and a Rise in Apprenticehships: Why Vocational Learning Is Driving the Green Shoots Emerging in Wales This Spring

Spring has sprung here in Wales, and brought with it a number of green shoots in the process. According to recent labour market statistics, youth unemployment (16-24) is falling faster in Wales than in the rest of the UK.

Wales' Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates, has also recently revealed a record rise in the number of people starting an apprenticeship to 28,000 in one year, and the overall figure for work-based learning provision across Wales also increased dramatically (by 14.5%) within the year 2012/13.

Higher Apprenticeships here in Wales have seen an unprecedented surge in popularity, with 2,275 created within the same period in comparison with just 280 in 2011/12 when the programme was introduced.

Having championed the need for a rising parity of esteem regarding apprenticeships for some time now - both within my role as Wales Commissioner for Employment and Skills, and as a business leader - it would certainly seem the economic clouds are beginning to recede.

The idea that Higher Apprenticeships should be on a level footing with a place at a top university is something those working to encourage greater investment in workplace skills and employee development have been looking towards for some time, and those efforts certainly appear to be paying off.

Twenty eight thousand new apprentices in one year is indeed an impressive figure, and many of these new learners will continue their training well into next year too.

This is great news on two counts - firstly, more young people are getting the opportunities they need and secondly, more employers are open to the economic benefits investing in the skills of their employees can bring.

From my perspective the latter point is undoubtedly the most significant. As one who has spoken previously of the economic benefits an unbroken dialogue between industry leaders and Government can bring, to see those perceived benefits becoming reality is satisfying and also incredibly encouraging.

To hear that an apparent shift in the public perception of apprenticeships as not only a viable but also well respected route to employment has brought about such remarkable results in such a short space of time is testament to that dialogue - a dialogue which so many have worked hard to both create and maintain.

It is precisely for this reason that organisations like the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) exist in the first place, and the changing trends reported in Wales are a great example of what can be achieved when collaborative working between Government, industry and educational partners is successful.

Apprenticeships are providing the next generation of our workforce with a unique package of support, qualifications and experience, and are evidently also playing their part in bringing down long term youth unemployment too.

The need for our conversation as industry leaders to continue and develop with Government and training providers, therefore, has never been more crucial.