If the UK is going to compete with the rest of the world, then we must know the difference between good and bad growth

The disconnect between quality jobs and the skills young people have hurts everyone

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At the start of an election year one question always dominates the news – who is going to win? But while an endless parade of pundits gaze into their crystal balls, people ask: what kind of future do I want for myself and my family? Who can we trust to help us?

The answer starts with an economy that works for us all, with businesses driven by social as well as financial purpose.  That means more than just growth, it means good growth.

Good growth is built on our shared success, where the way we look at our economy doesn't stop and start with GDP. Good growth helps business and communities come together to build a more prosperous society that benefits us all. Businesses as citizens.

Central to that ambition is a deal in which our businesses help train our young people who in turn, and in time, begin to add their own value to the British economy and indeed to their own businesses. Who offer work experience, internships and apprenticeships, not because the government tells them to, but because it is the right thing to do.

Ed Miliband understands this perfectly – you can see it in his ten year plan to get as many young people into an apprenticeship as currently go to university.

But in London today that goal is a long way off. Apprenticeship numbers are low and getting lower. We provide apprenticeship starts at just half the rate of the UK average - which itself is falling.

And we’re not just competing with the rest of the UK, but the rest of the world. Lagging behind isn’t an option. To meet our goal by 2025 we would need to roughly quadruple the number of apprenticeship starts each year, so we have to move fast. And here’s the key: business, government, educators and young people all working together to succeed.

That means politicians backing warm words with real investment but crucially it also means letting go. Giving employers the control they need to make skills funding work. They know their sectors best, so they should be in charge when it comes to directing where more training and better skills are needed, and they should be given the freedom they need to invest where they see fit.

 

In return, employers must develop serious long term plans to boost the numbers of high quality apprenticeships for good. And government and business should have a simple understanding - when it comes to public contracts: no apprenticeships, no deal.

We need to leave behind old ways where careers advice meant a UCAS brochure or directions to the local job centre, and start thinking more about technical skills and wider opportunities. And in return for the right support young people should of course be expected to grasp those opportunities with both hands.

A role and responsibility for all. That's the heart of good growth. There is no other way – not if we want to compete. In a global economy where our emerging rivals in places like India and China are hungry for a greater and greater share, we cannot afford to stand still.

But their growth doesn’t just mean extra competition – it means opportunity as well. The global middle class will more than double to 4.9bn by 2030, creating ever larger markets for British exports. Markets that a dynamic UK economy can thrive in – but only if we rise to the challenge

To take one example, East London’s growing Tech City is competing with the best from California to China at the cutting edge of the digital industries, but they are already reporting serious skills shortages. That is a scandal. The openings those industries provide should mean opportunities for the young people they neighbour. Instead, the disconnect between the high quality jobs and the skills our young people possess hurts us all, and holds us back. That has to change.

Our competitors will get this right, so we can’t afford to get it wrong.

London and the UK will only succeed if we make the most of what we have got, with an open economy that looks out to the world and a highly skilled workforce ready to lead it. That doesn't start with the ludicrous Tory plan to deport skilled foreign graduates but by arming young British people with the skills they need to succeed.

That's Labour's answer, and it's why Labour will be the answer for the pundits' question too. Labour will win in May. They have a plan to build an economy that works for us all - good growth, better skills and higher pay. That's the future I want for my city and that's the future we can start to build this year.

Comments