Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Today, as I visited the different parts of the show, I’ve built a bird box, I’ve welded metal, I’ve seen carpentry, bricklaying, sound engineering, web design, and I’ve even made my own Star Wars figure out of plaster.
So if I’ve achieved nothing else today, then at least I’ve widened my career options. Just in case.
It’s been a very impressive day. And that range of activities is a snapshot of what vocational education means. From building houses to building websites, just a few hours is enough to see that our economy - and our country - rely on the skills you provide.
I want to talk to you today about that link between employment and education.
About how it can be strengthened, about what we’re doing in government to help, and why only the best vocational education will give our young people the best chance of prosperous, productive careers.
This has always been a personal interest: as a fresh-faced 18 year old, West Cheshire College gave me a good start in life.
And now, as a slightly less fresh-faced Minister, I work in both the Department for Business and the Department for Education. That means I cover enterprise, employment and education policy - only appropriate if we want to join the 3 things up.
But beyond my personal interest, it’s a good time to talk about vocational education.
Economic trends are promising.
The latest statistics show that the number of young people not in education, employment or training has continued to fall. The participation rate for 16 to18 year olds is now over 90%.
But youth unemployment is still too high: 958,000 of our young people are still out of work, school or college.
And last months’ OECD adult skills survey should check any complacency.
It found that England ranks 21st for numeracy among young people, out of 24 countries, and 22nd for literacy.
Uniquely in the developed world, our young people, fresh out of the education system, perform no better than their grandparents.
And we know that employers want more, too.
They tell us they want education to be rigorous, to get basic reading, writing, adding up right, and to provide meaningful, respected qualifications.
And they want education to be responsive, offering skills that are actually needed. Two-fifths of all employers (39%) struggle to recruit properly-qualified STEM workers, for example.
So the economic numbers, the OECD, and employers all tell the same story.
For each individual young person, for each individual business, and for the wider economy, it’s never been more important to provide skills that lead to employment.
So what are we doing in government to help?
First, we’re ensuring every young person has a proper foundation of English and maths.
We know that good GCSEs in these subjects are the minimum employers require.
We know that advanced technical jobs are only accessible to those with the right foundations.
And we know that some of the top-performing education systems, like Hong Kong, Japan or Germany, keep their students studying core academic subjects later.
So we’ll make sure 16 to 19 year olds study towards an English GCSE if they don’t have one, and are developing a wider range of maths course to keep the vast majority of students studying maths to 18, whether they’re at school, college or work-based training.
Second, we’re making sure further education routes for young people are closely linked to employers’ needs.
We introduced traineeships - to give workplace skills and confidence to young people who want to work, but aren’t quite ready for a full apprenticeship or job.
Apprenticeships are more employer-led than ever.
Last month I announced our 8 industry trailblazers who will design new apprenticeships around the needs of employers, and later this year, we will announce further changes to funding to make the link even stronger.
And third, we’ve simplified qualifications and directed funding to the most rigorous and respected qualifications.
Over 3,000 qualifications were removed from 14 to 16 provision. Over 1,800 were removed from adult qualifications. And for 16 to 19 year olds, we will shortly be publishing the first lists of approved level 3 qualifications.
From 2016, only those with this seal of approval, the strongest, most stretching courses with real credibility will be included in new-look performance tables.
Together with the tech level, coming in 2014 as a high-quality alternative to A-levels, and new funding rules that will only fund qualifications that are recognised by business and have real demand. This represents a clearer, more meaningful qualifications regime.
That’s better for young people and better for employers.
Stronger foundations, closer employer involvement, smarter qualifications and funding. Just 3 of the most important things we’re doing.
But this isn’t just about central government.
In Westminster, we can set the big policy picture. But you, the people providing skills, know better than anyone how education and employment interact, in your sectors and in your areas.
And in particular, you can inspire young people.
We know that information helps people choose the right training, that’s why the National Careers Service will bring schools, employers, charities and social enterprises together on a local scale, making a more coherent offer to young people.
But when young people choose a career, they don’t just do a dry totting up of pros and cons.
We know that excitement matters - that it’s only right to be motivated by imagining your own better tomorrow, by a gut feeling that a trade or job or employer or course is right for you.
As I was shown around today, I’ve seen that in action. From plumbing to pottery, your show is opening eyes.
It’s about aspiration. It’s about making sure qualifications are responsive and rigorous. And I want all qualifications not just to pass muster of competence, but to be aspirational and recognise merits and distinctions through grading. We’re doing that for apprenticeships, but in recognising merit that’s just the start.
So, as the economy improves, as you strain every sinew in training, as we make big changes in government, there’s a real opportunity to give employers and future employees what they want and need.
That takes commitment. A drive in government to get on with reform, energy and enthusiasm from training providers, and a willingness from business to take on young people and train them up.
That’s what we want: a culture of training and employing young people, of life-long learning, of education and employment being inextricably linked.
Today’s show is a great example of just that.
So I thank you for leading, congratulate you on an excellent day, and wish you all future success.