When I write to my constituents turning eighteen years of age, I always present to them the choice to exercise their right to vote. It is always a choice, but it is the responsibility of voting which I feel is important to communicate. Of course, there are plenty of other, sometimes more appealing choices available for those reaching this milestone; including how to continue their learning!
Just recently, the Government announced its intention for a wholescale review of higher education; a welcome chance to look again at the expectations of students entering university and charting a course for their futures.
But it also offers an opportunity to consider other options available for learning and training. For instance, next week marks National Apprenticeship Week and the chance to reflect on the successes of delivering over 1 million apprenticeships and, at the same time, driving a new impetus for two million more by 2020.
In this constituency alone, there are 646 employers currently providing just shy of 1,000 apprenticeships to individuals from sixteen years upwards. In 8 short years, the number of places has risen dramatically and West Suffolk College alone has delivered 12.5% more apprenticeship places in just one year. What has been great to see is that the uptake of local apprenticeships has come from all levels and all ages, proving the worth of earning whilst learning.
Now, I want to make sure we build on this success and strive for more. If we want to achieve our national aim of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 the hard work must start now. For this constituency and county, I want to see more skilled apprenticeships on offer, including better access to degree apprenticeships in rural areas.
Currently, the employment rate across the entire region outperforms the national average. However, amongst these jobs, there are not enough skilled jobs some others have access to. Without focus, this situation is not only bad for individuals but it threatens our overall growth and potential.
And yet, over 50% of all apprenticeships formed across the East of England offer high level skills specialising in manufacturing and engineering. If we want to deliver both the skills and opportunities we need, then where better to start than harnessing the capacity of eastern apprenticeships.
That is why working with fellow MPs, councillors, business leaders, the LEP and other innovators, we are delivering more in the way of skills and mobility; allowing residents to access opportunities in aviation, technology and science right across the region.
By unlocking the potential already available, we can do more to improve skills and prospects across the East, in Suffolk and right here in Bury St Edmunds. This is the exciting message and plan I will take with me into next week, as we welcome National Apprenticeship Week.
Published in the Bury Free Press