National Apprenticeship Week is taking place to celebrate efforts to get young people into work. With Birmingham suffering from one of the worst youth unemployment rates in the country, Prime Minister David Cameron writes for the Post about work taking place to boost the city

Last year the Conservative Party held its conference in Birmingham. The thousands passing through New Street Station to get there all saw the ambitious construction work that is under way.

And at the heart of this project – described as the biggest refurbishment currently taking place in Europe – are a number of young apprentices.

The work at New Street underlines that you don’t have to go to university to get on in life. An apprenticeship can be just as clear a path to a good job: an employer passing down their skills and experience from one generation to the next, whether that’s in manufacturing, hospitality or countless other areas.

This isn’t just good for young people, it’s vital for our economy. The world has changed and Britain is in a tough global race for jobs. To win that race, all our young people need to have their talents developed to the full.

Labour didn’t get this. They talked a good game on apprenticeships but for many they became little more than box ticking exercises. And there also weren’t nearly enough apprenticeships to go around. Countless young people in the West Midlands suffered as a result – unable to get a decent job.

This week – to mark National Apprenticeships Week – I’m setting out a new ambition. I want it to be the case that it becomes the norm for every school leaver to start an apprenticeship or go to university. No more shuffling from the classroom to the dole queue. Instead, all our young people should have their talents harnessed to compete in the tough world of today.

It already happens in Germany, which has one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe. Why can’t it happen here too?

This Government is serious about making British apprenticeships the envy of the world.

We’ve already come a long way. We’re investing in a quarter of a million more apprenticeships than the last Government planned for this Parliament. We’ve created a Higher Apprenticeships Fund to help employers design courses of genuine rigour – up to the standard of a masters degree. We’ve offered cash bonuses to small companies who take on apprentices under 25. And we’re making it easier for employers to advertise vacancies.

This effort is paying off in the West Midlands and beyond. Last year over 60,000 people started an apprenticeship in the region, three times the number in 2007. Since the year of the last election, more than a million people across the UK have started one.

In the 19th Century, Birmingham and the West Midlands became known as the workshop of the world. The area became a centre for manufacturing, a place where skilled young people put Britain on the map.

And we’ve got big ambitions for the 21st Century too. We want nothing less than a renaissance in apprenticeships. Millions of young people getting the practical skills they need to make it in life – so they can rise and Britain can rise too.

Apprentice case studies

* A Black Country manufacturer is toasting its involvement in National Apprenticeship Week after seeing a young recruit promoted to team leader.

West Bromwich company firm Wrights Plastics took on 17-year-old John Richards as an apprentice after he left a design course a year in and faced a future without further qualifications or job opportunities.

However, five years on Mr Richards has been made team leader in the graphics department at the firm, which supplies industry, retail and the jewellery trade.

He said: “After I left college, prospects weren’t great, but fortunately I was offered an apprenticeship by Wrights Plastics. And the end of the two-year scheme I was able to extend the Apprenticeship – which meant I could add an NVQ3 to the qualification I received in the first scheme.”

With the support of his employers, Mr Richards is aiming to add an HND in Business to his growing list of qualifications.

Mike Wright, managing director of Wrights Plastics, said “We are delighted for John – his hard work and dedication meant we were only too pleased to offer him a full-time position in a role with a high level of responsibility. We have been running apprentice schemes for a number of years to provide continuity to the skills and experience we have developed over many years.”

* Most apprentices prepare for work with a look at their notes – Bronya Worrall looks after her tarantulas.

The 23-year-old is taking an animal care apprenticeship through Solihull College, and her pets – five tarantulas, eight snakes and two chickens – help out.

It is quite a change from the other apprenticeships overseen at the college, which include accounting, horticulture, retail and construction.

Ms Worrall said: “We spend a lot of time dealing with customers, explaining how they should care for their pets, including the feeding process and the best heating system to use, and the knowledge I have gained is fantastic. Working in the shop has also built up my confidence and skills in other areas, including stock control, supervising work experience students, and dealing with payments from customers.”

The apprenticeship is aimed at those wanting to work in animal care, dog grooming, pet care, zoos and wildlife. Modules include handling and moving animals, giving basic treatments and setting up animal accommodation, among others.