THIS week we are celebrating National Apprenticeship Week and it rightly is a real celebration; it is a credit to the Swindon Advertiser for promoting the opportunities and benefits on offer throughout the week. Apprenticeships offer a vocational route into work, a chance to earn, learn and, crucially, to get your foot on your career ladder.

We have overseen the biggest boost to apprenticeships, both in numbers and length of apprenticeship. There have been 1.5 million apprenticeship starts since 2010, with a record 868,700 people in an apprenticeship at this very moment, a key reason behind the encouraging fall in youth unemployment.

This huge progress has focused on raising the status of apprenticeships so young people leaving school view an apprenticeship and going to university as of equal merit.

This has been crucial in boosting numbers as previously society had wrongly deemed university as an artificial bar of success. Yet, I know, as a former business owner that employed young people, it was actually them being equipped with the appropriate and tangible skills, not just a paper qualification.

Businesses have been incentivised to recruit apprentices. A business can have the actual costs covered 100 per cent if the apprentices are aged 16 to 18, 50 per cent if they are 19 to 24 and up to 50 per cent if they are over 25. In addition, working with their respective training college, such as New College or Swindon College, the apprentice continues to get formal training and qualifications.

While there has been a 43 per cent increase in the number of businesses seeking to recruit an apprentice in the last two years, it is still clear that too many businesses, especially small businesses, are unaware of the schemes and support available. This was clear when I spoke to local businesses and when I met various training instructors on the National Apprenticeship Bus, which came to Wharf Green on Monday. I therefore pushed the Minister in the House on the need to boost promotion, using the annual Business Rate mailer. To me it would make sense to include a leaflet on the apprenticeships scheme so then every single business can be made aware. This would help create further opportunities for young people and, as we have already paid for the Business Rate mailer, it would be at minimal cost to the tax-payer, always helpful when asking the Government for something!

Supporting young people whether they choose to go to University, start their own business or become an Apprentice is key to our long-term economic plan. For Britain to succeed we need to equip young people with real-life skills needed for our growing economy and if you take time to talk to young people they are determined to step up and play their part.