Skills for Jobs white paper: employers to have key skills role

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Employers will have a central role in shaping technical education to ensure the workforce has the skills businesses need, the government has pledged in its Skills for Jobs white paper.

The white paper, published today, sets out the government’s plans for delivering its Lifetime Skills Guarantee and for reforming the post-16 education system, so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now and in the future.

According to the Department for Education only 66% of working-age graduates are in high skilled employment, and only 4% of young people achieve a qualification at higher technical level by the age of 25, compared to the 33% who get a degree or above.

The white paper says that employers will be encouraged to play a major part in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to ensure training meets their skills needs, while business groups will be able to work alongside colleges to develop skills plans to meet local training requirements. This will be supported by £65m in funding, which go towards establishing new “college business centres”.

Plans to put employers at the heart of the UK’s skills strategy have been welcomed by CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese, who hailed it as a “significant step forwards”.

“It will help to close the growing skills gaps that many organisations say are holding them back, and to give a clearer path to work for those coming through the educational system. And it should help to revitalise our technical and vocational education system that has fallen behind and lacked focus and investment for too long,” said Cheese.

“This is a key part of the solution to tackling the UK’s skills development and productivity deficit and equipping people for changes to the world of work driven by increased use of AI and automation.”

More support needed

However, Cheese said organisations, particularly smaller firms, would need support around how best to engage with colleges.

This is a key part of the solution to tackling the UK’s skills development and productivity deficit and equipping people for changes to the world of work driven by increased use of AI and automation” – Peter Cheese, CIPD

“Many struggle to clearly identify their organisations’ own skills deficits and development needs, which is one reason why there has been a long-standing fall in employer investment in training in the UK,” he said.

“Access to specialist HR and people development expertise will be needed if they are to engage meaningfully with colleges and also ensure that people’s skills are used effectively in the workplace so investment in training is not wasted.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, whilst providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job, no matter where they live, and in the sectors that are critical to our future economic success.”

Training for ‘tens of thousands’

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee, pledged by Boris Johnson last year and detailed in the white paper, will offer “tens of thousands” of adults the opportunity to retrain in later life, according to the Department for Education.

Adults without a full level 3 qualification (A-level equivalent) will be able to gain one for free from April 2021. Qualifications will be offered in a range of sectors including engineering, health and accountancy.

Skills Bootcamps – free 12-16 week courses – will give adults the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer, while a lifelong loan entitlement will also make it easier for people to study more flexibly over their lifetime.

Other initiatives unveiled in the report include:

  • Boosting the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications by introducing newly approved qualifications from September 2022
  • Changing the law so that from 2025 people can access flexible student finance
  • The launch of nationwide further education teacher recruitment campaign
  • Further investment in “high quality” professional development including a new “Workforce Industry Exchange Programme”
  • Overhauling the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high quality education and training that meets the needs of employers

New technologies mean that nine in ten employees will need to learn new skills by 2030″ – Matthew Fell, CBI

British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said: “We welcome these ambitious plans to put the skills needs of businesses at the heart of the further education system. As local business leaders look to rebuild their firms and communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential to ensure that the right skills and training provision is in place to support growth.

“Together, we can increase the focus on skills for the workplace – the digital, technical and broader skills that help businesses grow, succeed and create good jobs.”

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director for the CBI, said: “New technologies mean that nine in ten employees will need to learn new skills by 2030. Government commitment to delivering the flexible loan entitlement and boosting access to modular learning is hugely welcome and will support more adults into training. This should be backed up by turning the apprenticeship levy into a flexible skills levy at Budget.

“We look forward to engaging with government on any future consultation around the Augar review to ensure our world-class universities can continue to support the jobs, skills and innovation key for firms to thrive.”

The government now needs to ensure the skills development and vocational education system is sufficiently funded, said the Centre for Progressiv Policy’s director, Charlotte Alldritt.

“The white paper is a missed opportunity to address some longstanding challenges facing technical and vocational education, especially in terms of investment. For decades, an underfunded and undervalued system has underdelivered for learners and businesses alike,” she said.

“Now is time to put the skills system on a firm financial footing, fit to respond not just to the current crisis, but to a range of future micro and macro shocks, from automation to climate change.”

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