In national apprenticeship week let’s celebrate the opportunities that make Furness the envy of the country.

Just last week, applications closed for over 230 BAE apprenticeships in a range of disciplines from business management to engineering, all based at the shipyard. Many smaller firms are providing great opportunities and GSK has pledged to maintain the number of apprentices employed by its award-winning scheme, despite news last autumn that they are to downsize their Ulverston plant.

Yet our celebration of apprenticeship success in Furness must not make us complacent to the alarmingly small numbers of local school leavers going on to university. Last month new figures showed that just fifteen percent of Barrow and Furness school leavers got university places through UCAS, the official matching mechanism. That is the lowest in the whole country.

It should be stressed that this does not take into account the 500 students who are accessing higher education courses at our excellent Furness College.

Nevertheless I am increasingly concerned that the way things are geared at present may be leading some young people to choices that are not in their long term interest and at the same time deprive our cutting edge industries of the top level skills they need to thrive.

A few years ago, I understand a couple of Barrow sixth form college leavers turned down ultra-prestigious offers to study science or maths at Cambridge University in order to start apprenticeships at the yard.

I can understand why many look at the level of personal debt of traditional university graduates and opt instead for a scheme they can access from home or that will pay them as they train and seems to have a clearer link to a job on the other side.

But this does not need to be an either/or situation: I hope our top industries like BAE will carry on down the route of sponsoring some of our local talent to go away to study at the country’s very best institutions so they can bring that learning back to the submarine programme and the local economy.

Choosing between world leading apprenticeships, our great local provision and even higher level learning is a good problem to have. I am excited and about our area’s future but I am determined to do all I can to make sure every single Furness citizen gets the best they possibly can.