Karen Lumley is MP for Redditch.

I will today be hosting an Apprenticeships & Skills Fair in my constituency. In common with most MPs, I am passionate about helping my constituents secure employment as well as to help businesses and organisations recruit the staff they need. Previously I have hosted two Jobs Fairs, and am really proud of the fact that these truly changed the lives of some of my constituents.

Helping young people to find work is especially rewarding, particularly when that person has never been able to find work before. The sad truth is we can see from previous generations’ experiences of youth unemployment that the longer the period spent out of work as a youth, the more time spent out of work later in life. This is why I believe MPs’ Apprenticeships Fairs are so important, to get young people the skills they need to make the most of the opportunities available. But they are also vital because they represent a real culture shift in the way we look at career options for young people.

Even more concerning than the bad legislation passed by the last Labour Government was the culture that it created. Not only did youth unemployment rise by 45 per cent, but it also created a culture of snobbery in which they made young people believe that university was the only way to make a success of your life. We’re still paying the price for this.

The Longitudinal Study of Young People in England in 2010 highlighted some characteristics of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs).  Those who had achieved less than five GCSEs grade A to C were more likely to be NEETs, as too were those who had been excluded or suspended from school. Given that, for whatever reason, education had failed to engage the interest of these young people in their earlier years, what good did pushing them in the direction of further academic education do?

University may be right for some students, and essential for certain professions, but it isn’t right for everybody. It certainly wasn’t right for me, which is why I went straight into work at 18 – and I think I did okay! Unfortunately in recent years, it has been those people for whom university was not right that were left behind. Many were forced through the further education system with little or no chance of a job afterwards, and others were left feeling that they had underperformed, because they themselves had not been able to meet entry requirements. I’m pleased that thanks to this Government it is slowly becoming the norm that young people get the choice of an apprenticeship, as well as that of going to university when they leave school.

Apprenticeships provide young people with much needed experience, often lead to a full-time job and bring real value to the businesses that take them on by allowing the individuals to develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. 96 per cent of employers think that apprentices add real benefits to their businesses. After their apprenticeships, 85 per cent stay in employment, with 65 per cent remaining with the same employer. They are critical to tackling the skills gap that exists in Britain.

This skills gap has held Britain back in its export and manufacturing capabilities. In recent years, our economy has relied too much on services and too little on goods. To change this we must have the expertise and resources to produce and export such goods. We must of course promote our services industry, but it is also imperative that that is not all we do.

We are still massively under-performing as a nation, with the UK ranked 23rd in the world for manufacturing output per head ,and 114th in the world for manufacturing output as a share of GDP. We accounted for around three per cent of the world manufacturing output – with the US, China and Japan accounting for 50 per cent between them. I have written previously for this site about our manufacturing revival, particularly in my area of the West Midlands, but there is still a long way to go. I’m therefore pleased that a number of local manufacturers, including Jaguar Land Rover, will be attending my Apprenticeships Fair to see what they can do for young people in my constituency.

Apprenticeships and Skills should form a core part of our Conservative message. For me, the very reason I am a Conservative is because I believe in aspiration. The role of government should be to provide people with the foundations they need to better themselves. It should not favour one path over another, but provide the equality of opportunity that means that people can go on to do what they want to do and do it well, knowing that as long as they work hard and do the right thing the Government is firmly on their side.

This year, and in each year since the last election in my constituency, there are in the region of 1,000 apprenticeship starts which I’m obviously delighted about, particularly as these figures previously languished below the 500 per year mark. The future is looking brighter for young people in Redditch and in Britain. Long may it continue!