Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to make it his “mission” to raise the level of skills of a generation of young people entering the workplace for the first time.
Addressing the CBI annual conference, the Labour leader said improving skills was the key to lifting economic performance as he offered a new “contract” between business and his party.
Speaking in Birmingham, one of a number of venues where the conference is taking place, he said he wanted to work with business to “remake” Britain following Brexit and the pandemic.
He said he was appointing a new council of skills advisers – including former education secretary Lord Blunkett – to ensure young people were equipped with the skills they needed for the digital age.
“It has long been my view that we don’t value vocational and technical skills nearly enough,” he said.
“My council will ensure young people are literate in the technology of the day. That is why we would add digital skills to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
“Better skills are vital if we are to improve productivity and economic growth.
“This is why getting the next generation ready for work will be my mission as leader of the Labour Party. Skills policy is the first line in the first chapter of Labour’s plan for good business.”
Setting out his proposal for a new contract with business, Sir Keir said Labour wanted to create a “wave” of high-skilled jobs while looking to firms to invest in the long term while supporting their staff through fair pay and flexible working.
“I know we have bridges to build, and I want to start a dialogue with you here today,” he said.
“This is our side of the contract. To run a stable government and a tight ship, to equip the next generation for work, to invest in British business and to create a wave of high-skilled jobs.
“Of course, on your side of the contract, there are responsibilities too. To invest in the long term, to contribute as we strive towards net zero, to contribute to your local communities, to support your workforce with fair pay and flexible working.”