I was born into a Britain very different to the one we see today. People would join a company and expect to stay there for their entire career. That Britain no longer exists. It has changed radically since I was born and it will change even more by the time the next generation enters work.

In today's incredibly competitive, globalised world with its flexible markets and open borders, jobs, even entire industries can appear and disappear over night. X-rays taken in Devon can be checked by doctors in Delhi. Accounts filed in Bolton can be processed in Beijing. To compete and thrive in this new world our companies need a workforce that is highly skilled and highly productive.

These forces of globalisation are not going to fade away. They are only getting stronger. And so we have a choice. We can hide our heads in the sand and pretend that we won"t be affected. But the consequences will be disastrous, a slow but inevitable economic decline, social unrest and growing poverty.

Or we can choose a different future.

Well prepared, each company and each individual can take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities that the global market place also presents.

Investing in your employees leads to greater staff loyalty, higher retention rates and lower recruitment costs. It means lower absenteeism, higher productivity and greater competitiveness. These are all things that will make a real difference to your bottom line and to your ability to compete with companies on the other side of the street or the other side of the world.

In my own constituency of Tottenham I have witnessed up close the realities of life for people without the skills they need. The misery and isolation that poverty and unemployment can bring is all too apparent.But I have also seen the remarkable changes that can happen when people do embrace learning. The joy of achievement, of getting a job, of people and businesses lifting themselves up to heights they never previously thought possible.

The mission of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) is to give people and companies the help and support they need so we can lift our whole country up. We aim to create a country recognised the world over as a place that invests in and believes in its people, and enables people of all backgrounds to climb the ladder of success and helps all our companies to compete with the best in the world.

Last month we published "World Class Skills," our long-term plan to transform this country's skills at every level. This plan establishes ambitious targets. We want all adults to be able to read, write and do numbers. And we want more than 90% of adults to be qualified to at least Level 2, the equivalent of 5 good GCSEs, and for that figure to get to 95% as soon as possible. And we aim to have millions more qualified at an intermediate and higher level. But our ambitions go further.

The jobs of tomorrow will come from industries that require high level, high value-added skills. They will come from the biosciences, from information technology, from financial services and from the industries we haven"t even thought of yet. If we are to be a world leader in an economy based on the knowledge and skills of our people then we need ever more people to be qualified to graduate and post-graduate level. Our aim is for 40% of adults qualified to at least Level 4 by the end of the next decade, and to be committed to further progression beyond that.

This is a crusade to transform Britain's skills. A crusade backed to the hilt by the Prime Minister. However, transforming our skills base is not something that government can do alone. Only a new partnership between government, employers and individuals can have the power to transform our skills base.

So as you read this article ask yourself a question:

How are you going to play your part?

If you"re not sure, we can help.

If you run a company, large or small, go to www.traintogain.gov.uk. Train to Gain not only offers tailored advice on the best training for your company, but it will find and arrange the best way of delivering that training to your staff. It will set out the full costs of that training and help source any public funds which can help to meet some or all of that cost. It can help your business improve its productivity and competitiveness by ensuring that employees have the right skills to do the best job.

I ask all of you to make the Skills Pledge. This is a public, voluntary commitment, specific to the needs of your business, to support all of your employees to achieve at least a full Level 2 qualification. Make sure that your company has the skills it needs to compete. If you don"t, your competitors will. You can find further details on the Train to Gain website.

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about what it means to be British. I want being British to include being amongst the best in the world for skills, science, research and innovation. This will enable us to live in a more equal society and to lead happier, more fulfilling lives; to continue to be among the most successful economies in the world.

It's our country, it's our future, it's in our hands.

David Lammy MP, Minister for Skills

David Lammy is the MP for Tottenham. He has previously held Ministerial positions at DCMS and DCA. He has a Masters in Law from Harvard Law School and has practiced in both England and the USA.

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