We are skilled to lead the world

MP John Hayes talks to apprentices.
MP John Hayes talks to apprentices.
Have your say


When I was a child science fiction films often portrayed an automated future controlled by computers, a place where every task was performed by a machine.

According to some this cinematic fiction is turning into fact. We are told that driverless cars will be seen on our roads and that computers will soon be able to monitor and take control of almost everything from our calorie intake to our energy consumption.

Pessimists argue that this second industrial revolution will have a devastating impact on employment. They predict that many office workers will be replaced by technology and even professionals, like doctors, lawyers and accountants, will suffer as people increasingly turn to the internet to diagnose illnesses, write their will and file their own accounts.

The Economist magazine cited a recent study by Oxford University which suggests that 47 per cent of today’s jobs could be automated in the next two decades.

Such pessimism is unfounded. The future economy will depend on a workforce with skills necessary to develop, build and service the increasingly sophisticated devices that play a greater role in our lives.

And, as more becomes automated and standardised, we will value ever more highly those skills machines cannot match.

After all, because working with and dealing with other people is part of what makes life agreeable, interpersonal skills can never be replaced and craftsmen whose every product is individually tailored will always be valued.

Training and education is vitally important to this highly skilled future. That’s why as skills minister I made my mission the elevation of the status of practical learning.

I am proud to have overseen the creation of over 1.5 million new apprenticeships since May 2010; including 495,000 last year alone; a 76 per cent increase over Labour’s final year in Government.

There have never been more apprentices, learning by doing. This includes record numbers of higher (degree level) apprenticeships. Here in South Holland and the Deepings the number of people starting an apprenticeship soared to 920 in 2012/13; there were just 470 in 2009.

This renaissance in vocational training is so essential, not only to the lives of people today, but for the British economy in the coming decades.

Just as we led the world in the industrial revolution, I am confident that Britain can lead the world again in the new economy of the 21st century. Academic accomplishment matters, but it’s time we recognised that all those with practical, technical and vocational talents also deserve their place in the sun.