In 2004, I set up the Centre for Social Justice. Spending time in Britain’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, I saw whole communities blighted by worklessness, even before the recession. All too often young people ended in the Jobcentre aged 18, unready for the world of work.

There are currently 954,000 young people in England aged 16-24 who are not in employment, education or training. This isn’t just bad news for growth and productivity. It’s also a real waste of young people’s potential.

A big part of the problem is that, as a society, we have majored on academic achievement as a measure of success. There should be a way of gaining top qualifications that doesn’t involve going to university.

Our technical education remains weaker than most other developed nations’. Research by think tank Demos suggests that in England, of those in employment, 11 out of every 1,000 people completed an apprenticeship compared with 40 out of every 1,000 in Germany and 43 in Switzerland.

The same trend is found in business, too, with under a third of big UK companies offering apprenticeships compared with 100% of big companies in Germany. Europe’s most competitive export economies are built on valuing practical skills alongside academic ones.

The Coalition Agreement confirmed the government’s intention to improve the quality of vocational education, and we are beginning to see progress made.

First, we are doing a great deal to develop a more diverse schools provision. The government has given the go-ahead for a total of 12 studio schools and 24 university technical colleges in coming years, which will provide young people with the knowledge and skills that industry demands.

Second, there has been a real push on apprenticeships as a practical route into employment. We are delivering at least 250,000 more than the previous government had planned as well as reducing bureaucracy and introducing incentive payments for employers to take on an apprentice.

Finally, we’re doing more to address the barriers young people face in moving into work. Lack of experience is often a problem, so we are working with employers to provide an extra 250,000 work experience places over the next three years. Employing a young person comes with a cost and a risk attached. To ease that cost a bit, we’re introducing 160,000 new wage incentives, worth up to £2,275 each for employers who take on young people from the Work Programme.

It is also important we support IGD’s Feeding Britain’s Future initiative. Showcasing the diversity of jobs available and giving young people an insight into the skills needed to succeed, I hope this initiative will inspire young people to put their talents to use in the food and grocery sector.

As Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a grocer, said: “Pennies don’t fall from heaven, they have to be earned here on earth.” The government’s welfare reforms are about changing our system so that young people can feel the satisfaction of a day’s pay for a day’s work.