Spent all of yesterday afternoon at SportCity. The first hour was with the Prime Minister who spent some time in the City of Manchester Stadium talking to half a dozen of our rapidly increasing number of apprentices (of which more later).
He then crossed to the Institute of Sport where in the National Squash Centre a national schools squash competition was taking place, and in the Indoor Athletics facility lots of Manchester School children were taking part in sports activities. I had some difficulty convincing one of Mr Brown's advisers that this had not been put on specially, and that if he had come the day before he would have seen exactly the same thing. I suspect its not very widely known even in Manchester just how widely used the SportCity facilities are particularly by young people, helping achieve our objective of being a healthier city but also providing real motivation. After the PM has gone I go back to the stadium for something called the Big Conversation organised by Business in the Community. The centre piece of this is to put young people in one-to-one conversations with CEOs / Senior Managers of companies in order both to inspire and to give the young people the confidence to have high aspirations and to work hard to achieve them.
This morning I'm in Wigan for the Regional Leaders Board. A very full agenda ends with a presentation from Sue Price, the Regional Director of the National Apprentice Scheme, about how we can make apprenticeships work for the individual, for communities, for business and for public services. Nowadays you don't have to be young to be an apprentice - they cover anybody of working age (unless you have a degree) - they cover over 190 work areas - and qualifications can be, depending on the subject area, at NVQ level 2, 3 or 4 plus a technical certificate. Manchester City Council, I'm delighted to say is, one of a number of good practice employers in the region and we are now rapidly approaching five hundred apprentices. There is still a job to do to convince many employers to use the apprentice route to help develop a skilled workforce but it is an increasingly important way for people of all ages but especially our young people to find careers that satisfy them and help build stronger communities.