The following appeared in my contribution for the Barnsley Chronicle’s education supplement on 11th May:

There’s an increasing gap developing in our economy between the training that is being provided and the skills that are needed for the jobs that are being created.

With Brexit fast approaching, it is more important than ever for employers and workers alike that government closes that gap. One of the main and most effective ways of tackling a skills shortage is through employer-led training and apprenticeships, which help to pass on experience and skills.

As well as helping to train those in work, they are also important to people of all ages looking to get into work. They can provide on-the-job experience for those new to a profession, vital qualifications that are required for progression in the workplace, and a foot-in-the-door as the first step to permanent employment.

It’s a route many people have taken, with around 500,000 apprenticeships started in the last year alone.

But that is actually a fall from the previous year, and a lot more needs to be done to ensure apprenticeships are an effective route into work for so many people.

That’s why at the last election the Labour Party pledged to double the number of ‘Level 3’ apprenticeships by 2022, with a particular focus on groups like veterans, care leavers and people with disabilities who need extra help.

That way we can ensure there are enough apprenticeships, particularly for those who need the opportunity the most.

But it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality as well.

At the moment, only 1 in 10 employers across the country provide apprenticeships, and the majority of these are taken by older people, rather than used to provide school leavers and young people with a start.

Of the apprenticeships taken up by young people, only 1 in 4 them receive formal training.

This isn’t good enough, and won’t provide the experiences people here in Barnsley need. We must do better.

That’s why I took the decision to employ a local apprentice who splits their time between experiencing work in my busy constituency office, and gaining vital qualifications from Barnsley College, all while earning a proper living wage.

I hope to make that a more common experience for young people in local workplaces in future. To put it simply, we need more high-quality apprenticeships that truly provide the skills and experiences that will make a difference for them, and all of us who will benefit from a skilled workforce and successful economy.

The skills gap has grown but this means there are many more opportunities for high-quality training to help close it, and give local people the opportunity they need to get on in life.

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