It's great to be here this morning - because what you do really matters. There's no more pressing job facing our country than building a growing, balanced and modern economy that can create worthwhile jobs for our people.
And what you are learning - and teaching - here today is vital to achieving that.
We can all see what's gone wrong with our economy over the last decade.
We allowed the public sector to grow too large.
We ended up too dependent on financial services...
...while manufacturing declined very sharply.
And our economy became more unbalanced between north and south.
So it's clear what we need to do as a country.
Revive the private sector.
Encourage new jobs in skilled, high-value industries such as aerospace and life sciences.
And bring back healthy growth right across the country, including in the great cities.
But the work of rebalancing is a difficult, painstaking process.
There are some positive signs.
There was some encouragement in this quarter's employment figures...
...and over 600,000 private sector jobs have been created since the election.
Exports are up by almost 20%.
Investment in manufacturing is also up.
But there's much more to do, and a long way to go.
Boosting apprenticeships and vocational education is a big part of this rebalancing effort.
I have no doubt how valuable it is.
For every £1 we spend on apprenticeships it's estimated the economy gains at least £18.
That's why even in a time of cuts we boosted spending on apprenticeships to over £1.5 billion.
When we came to power we promised to create 50,000 extra post-19 apprenticeships...
....already we've more than doubled that commitment.
We helped 457,000 people start apprenticeships last year...
...we're aiming for half a million.
That will be 250,000 more over this parliament than previously planned.
But there is absolutely no complacency.
We've got to step up the pace of job creation. Boost training. Really drive up standards.
Why? Not just because that's what our economy needs to compete around the world...
...but because there is dignity in work...
...in having a skill and a worthwhile job.
And because we want a society where people have real chance to get on and get up - to escape the circumstances of their birth.
Learning skills can play a large part in that.
Behind all this is a really big question.
Why has it taken so long to get vocational education right in this country?
Why is it that we can spend so much money, run so many courses, promise so much only to see generation after generation of young people leave education without work, without skills...
...and in many cases without even a grasp of basic English and Maths?
The consequences are all around us.
Under the last government youth unemployment started its tragic rise.
It went up by 278,000 - that's an increase of over 40%.
And 1.9 million children lived in homes where no one worked at all.
For years, politicians have been talking about this problem.
Time after time, they've come up with the same diagnosis.
That there's an English snobbery against vocational education.
That's true - but it's simply not enough to keep repeating the mantra, and expect things to sort themselves out.
We've got to really dig down, and work out what's gone wrong.
In my view, four big things have held us back.
Call them the four challenges.
First, we've neglected basic skills. Things like English and Maths - and yet they are the most valuable vocational skills of all.
Second, we've treated practical skills as a soft subject. We haven't insisted on rigour and high standards.
Third, there was a suspicion of business and a sense that employers shouldn't be allowed too close to courses.
And fourth, while we created a clear glide path into university for academic study we have left the route to vocational learning confusing and incomplete.
So let me take these in turn.
First, basic skills.
Whether you take an academic path or a vocational path, the basic skills are essential.
Things like how to add up. How to write and communicate.
Put simply: Maths and English.
It doesn't matter whether you are studying vital skills like carpentry...
...or studying at university to be research scientist.
There isn't a job in the world that doesn't need these skills.
They are the keys that unlock the doors to a society open to all.
Incredibly, even when 16 year-olds hadn't reached basic standards in English and Maths they were allowed to stop studying.
Every year 300,000 18-year olds started adult life without the equivalent of an English and Maths GCSE.
Well I can tell you that under this government things have changed.
From now on, whatever you study at school or college you'll get taught the basics as well.
English and Maths to at least the equivalent of a good grade at GCSE.
Second, we need more rigour in vocational studies and standards.
This isn't just a prejudice we had when we came to office.
We commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to look into what had gone wrong with vocational learning.
Her seminal report was a wake-up call. It's vital we heed what she says.
She found that 350,000 16 to 19 year olds were on so-called practical courses which offered them little or no benefit.
They were used as a bit of paper that schools took to pad out their performance in league tables. They were not a rigorous kick-start to a skilled career.
We've got to judge courses on what they actually achieve - not fool ourselves that standards don't count.
Under the last government there were courses that were regarded as equivalent to GCSEs.
For example - I am not making this up...
...a course in Personal Effectiveness which actually involved learning how to fill out a benefit form.
As Professor Wolf writes in her report, "in recent years both academic and vocational education has been bedevilled by well-meaning attempts to pretend that everything is worth the same as everything else."
An all-must-have-prizes mentality...
...which was not just a waste of money and a waste of time.
...but nothing short of a tragic betrayal of the potential of a generation.
We are putting a stop to this.
That's why we're clearing out Labour's alphabet spaghetti of weak courses in schools and colleges...
...slashing 3,175 courses which currently count in performance tables to just 140 by 2014.
The courses that do count are high quality qualifications that meet strict criteria to ensure they are actually worth taking.
They have to ensure pupils progress once they reach 16.
They have to ensure learning in depth.
They have to be rigorously assessed, not simply marked by the teacher who taught the class.
They have to really prove the performance of the student.
Now I'm not here today to talk down the value of vocational courses.
Quite the opposite. I want really strong courses.
That's why I am so proud that we're launching a new generation of inspirational colleges - the University Technical Colleges - for 14-19 year olds.
Places that students will really aspire to go to.
They are a really fantastic initiative.
Schools with the resources, the prestige, and all the allure of the very best places of learning...
...and I am really delighted that we have got 24 planned across the country.
Already the first have been approved, offering courses such as engineering, environmental services and food technology.
Anything that requires practical skills, with employers setting out the specialisms that are of most use locally.
We're also acting to toughen up apprenticeships...
... insisting that from August this year apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds and for most adults involve at least a year of real learning...
...not a few weeks' effort that's not worthy of the name.
Together, all this adds up to a bigger push for quality and tough standards in just two years than the last Government managed in 13.
But I am still not satisfied we are doing enough.
It is vitally important we don't just measure the number of apprenticeships...
... or the take up of vocational qualifications ...
... but really focus on the quality.
There's more we've got to tackle, too.
There's challenge three. That gap between training and work.
That suspicion that business shouldn't be allowed too close to courses.
That view which said courses shouldn't be shaped by the needs of local businesses and the vacancies that need to be filled...
...and that learning on the job can never matter as much as classroom teaching.
I say this is dangerous nonsense.
The best way to open eyes and change lives is to show young people what's possible.
If you visit great employers...
...companies like Nissan in Sunderland or Rolls Royce in Derby...
... you'll hear the same story time after time.
They don't want to take on school-leavers clutching a certificate.
They want to work with their staff to build skills as careers develop.
That's why we're putting the practical back into practical education.
We're cutting red tape so that employers can design courses...
....and so that colleges aren't incentivised to churn out qualifications rather than design the courses that businesses really need.
Under Labour, apprenticeships often didn't live up to the billing. You could even do one without having a job.
We're making employment a compulsory part of the package - so that workplace education means what it says.
We've launched the £1 billion Youth Contract to offer nearly half a million opportunities to 18 to 24-year olds in the workplace.
We're leading the way with a massive commitment to apprenticeships, not just for school leavers but for people in their 20s and beyond too...
...paid work, with training supported by government, in every sort of business combining real experience with practical learning.
And there's one more thing we're doing, too.
The jobs of the future are going to be created by expanding small and medium-sized businesses...
...so we're getting apprenticeships started in these, as well.
Cutting bureaucracy, so small employers aren't put off by complex schemes...
And offering an incentive of £1,500 per apprentice for up to 40,000 SMEs that take on a young apprentice for the first time.
Basic skills. Rigorous courses. Practical experience...
...we're bringing all these back but still there's one other big challenge facing us, too.
Challenge Four. We've treated vocational education and university education as rather too separate paths.
This created a straightforward glide path into an academic course at university for some young people.
The process is well known. Do your A-levels. Fill out the UCAS form. Visit the university. Apply for the loan and study for a degree.
While if you don't want to do that, the route forward can seem uncertain and frightening.
There's a jumble of qualifications in vocational courses that can turn out to be dead ends...
...rather than leading on to higher and higher skills.
I think one of the best gateways to university level study should be to do an apprenticeship.
After all, good apprenticeships with top employers such as BAE and BT are more oversubscribed than degree courses at Oxford or Cambridge.
Yet when we came to power only a handful of people were studying for the most-demanding Higher Apprenticeships.
These are degree-equivalent apprenticeships in things such as aerospace and renewable energy.
We're putting in resources and boosting the number to almost 20,000 by the end of this parliament.
An alternative route to university that's just as open to success.
And by the way it's brilliant news that if Boris wins again in London he's promised to give apprentices the same free travel rights on transport as students...
...ending discrimination, so they can all get around, and get on.
For years, we've been stuck in an endless debate about whether too many people go to university or not.
Some say the numbers have climbed far too high - and should be cut.
Others point out that if we freeze the numbers forever we'll be freezing out opportunity...
...given that so many of the people who do get to university at the moment are still from relatively better off homes.
But the truth is that economic flexibility and social progress depends on there being a choice of excellent academic courses and strong vocational education.
So we need a proper pathway for both.
And the way to do that is to give young people a really clear view of what's possible.
For years politicians who have cared about social mobility have argued it is important children from low-income backgrounds get to university.
That's absolutely right and needs to be done.
But we shouldn't underestimate the importance to social mobility of a really strong system of vocational education and apprenticeships.
These too can take people from disadvantaged backgrounds to the boardrooms of the finest and most respected companies in the land.
Half the members of its Board started as apprentices.
And then there is the final piece of the jigsaw.
When we came into government, there wasn't a national system of careers advice...
...simply a rag-bag of information for teenagers about everything from drug abuse to filling in a CV.
But choosing what you'll do in life, getting the skills, persuading an employer to take you on isn't just another of those things that comes along...
...it's one of the most important steps in all our lives.
For years it's been clear that we need to sort this out.
And by the way in Scotland and Wales they already have.
That's why we've just started a National Careers Service for England backed by expert advice.
If we get this right, we'll have made a really important long-term change to our country.
Created a university system that's open to all on the basis of merit - not wealth.
And a high-quality vocational system that rewards the values of aspiration and achievement.
This is about strengthening our economy and rebuilding our society.
It's about getting on in life, the chance to work and the chance to earn.
Our competitors around the world have got this right.
Now we need to do the same.
It's at the core of everything this government is about.
Yes, we are in power to deal with the deficit, to sort out the mess.
But what really fires me up is building an economy where people can find worthwhile jobs...
... new opportunities
...a chance of a better future for everyone.