Before the announcement of the latest Budget this week, one of the major points up for debate was what exactly it would mean for the drive to reduce the growing skills gap that is taking a hold of the UK labour market across a growing number of sectors.
As well as calls to cut tuition fees for science, maths and engineering courses, there was also strong support for calls to provide small firms with grants for apprenticeships and improve vocational training from a young age. Senior ministers including Vince Cable admitting that a lack of skilled workers is a "major problem" with the potential to seriously disrupt the economy. So what exactly did the Budget mean for vocational training and apprenticeships?
The biggest announcement in this regard made by chancellor George Osborne has promised to increase the number of apprenticeships for young people, in a bid to improve the skills of the workforce and cut the rate of unemployment among the this demographic. He told parliament: "To make sure we give young people the skills they need to get good jobs in the modern world, we've doubled the number of apprenticeships and I will extend the grants for smaller businesses to support over 100,000 more."
The government has also committed to new degree-level apprenticeships and pledged significant funds to a number of public and engineering works projects, including £270 million for the Mersey Gateway Bridge, £140 million of additional funding for repairs and maintenance of Britain's flood defences and £200 million for national pothole repairs.
Despite the criticism that the government has attracted in the past, the drive for more apprenticeships has been welcomed by many. John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, explained that the move will help to address the "huge confidence gap" that still exists between employers and young people looking for jobs.
"We are very pleased to see the chancellor heed our call to help firms take on and train tomorrow's workforce," he said. "Overcoming that confidence gap means more investment in young people, more apprenticeships, and more jobs, which are critical with more than 900,000 16 to 24-year-olds still out of work."