Levelling up Access to Skills and Jobs; Ten Points for your Manifesto

The growth in productivity per capita on which the headline promises in the party manifestos depend will not happen without radical changes to skills policy.

So far the references about what will be in the party manifestos and the calls in the Industry Skills Manifestos are a disappointment – particularly reference to passing powers to Local and Regional Government, a continuation of the policy of the previous Government in taking them away from the employer-led organisations such as the Sector Skills Councils and LEPs. The latter were of uneven quality but the widespread collapse in service that has followed indicates only too well that most local authorities have other, more immediate, priorities.

Tinkering with apprenticeships will not address the problems with a mechanism built around a requirement for at least 20% (on some programmes as much as 40%) off-the-job learning for non-academic teenagers who took an apprenticeship to escape from, school to “earn while they learn”. No wonder nearly 50% drop out.  The response of Government to allowing 50% of the levy being spent on retraining existing staff  is equally disappointing, giving the scale of work necessary to retrain those already in the work force.

The only other  tangible commitment appears to be in Liz Kendall’s speech to Demos . But it is unclear whether this  renaming of the programme funded via DfE (albeit with fewer advisors) a pledge that DWP will fund a thousand more Careers and Enterprise Company advisors for schools. And will the new “Young Futures Hubs” replace the existing Careers Hubs or does it mean that the latter will be contracted to also support NEETs. If the latter, it would be a welcome sign of the beginnings of a long overdue joined up approach to carers guidance.

The IFS data on the drop in employer spend is as misleading as that used to justify the apprenticeship levy in the first place. Over that past forty years the markets for on-the-job technology-assisted learning and training and computer-based distance learning have matured and now account for the bulk of employer-funded spend, replacing previous spend with those external providers, whether HE or FE, who are not part of the new supply chain.

In the mean time I have digested the output from the Skills APPG round table last November (organised by the Digital Policy Alliance 21 CN Skills Group), as edited with other materials for the  draft submission to the House of Lord Skills enquiry on which I recently consulted readers, into a draft of “Ten Points for Your Manifesto”.

I have not yet inserted all this links in the source material but rather than delay would very much welcome readers thoughts.

1 The pace and nature of change in demand for skills and the techniques and technologies to help address those changes have overtaken the ability of centralised planning to cope but we must distinguish between disciplines that change slowly, if at all, and skills where demand may change within the year. National policy should be focussed on improving flexibility and response to change not on attempts to predict the unpredictable in order to preserve past command and control structures and reputations for omniscience.

2 Under 8,000 (out of 5.5 million) employers are large enough to have the in-house skills to analyse their current, let alone future, skills needs in the detail necessary to plan courses and materials to address them. Consultations on their skills needs should be prefaced by market research using globally recognised definitions as per the DfE funded review of skills taxonomies: May 2022 and the analytical services, such as Vacancysoft, used by large UK employers and their recruitment advisors to inform their local, regional and national plans.

3 Give priority to the engagement of employers, training providers and recruitment agencies over democratic accountability. Authority for planning and delivery should be devolved to the growth and careers hubs, not tiers of local government who will have other priorities for their attention and funding for the foreseeable future.

4 Encourage frameworks led by national employers (including Government departments and agencies) to link these to national sector groups and national/international professional bodies to create local and regional skills partnerships akin to that of Singapore, to accredit and publicise content, subject to national industry-led quality control, counter-fraud and quality control processes operating to global standards, which qualifies for tax exemption and/or deduction.

5 BDUK and Ofcom to give much greater priority to the needs of the many rural schools which still lack reliable broadband and the many pupils and students in inner cities as well as rural areas, without the affordable and reliable connectivity (mobile as well as fixed) necessary for home or workplace learning. Use the BDUK Voucher underspend and Shared Rural Network to provide local access to world-class, accredited lifelong learning for all via schools, safe study spaces and secure mobiles via JANET and the Grids for Learning. (See the Janet and John Strategy

6 Address the fragmentation of funding, accreditation and regulation of UK skills programmes is fragmented across DWP (welfare to work), Home Office (right to work), DEmp, BEIS, OfS and their agencies and regulators. Treasury to fund and train a cross-departmental task-force of young high-flyers in the use of generative AI to package and promote current programmes in ways that make sense to the target audiences, identify those which compete, conflict or cannot be understood and should be culled and recommend processes to achieve this across the silos of central and local government.

7 Address the concerns of employers and apprentices and take-up problems leading to £4.4 billion of unspent levy remitted to the Treasury with a functional review of objectives and processes, including the requirement for 20% off-the-job training – a major cause of drop out in apprenticeships (e.g. emergency services, nursing, care and welfare) which appeal to those who are people-centric or have difficulty with academic teaching methods.

8 The obstacles to teenage take-up to be addressed include the provision of travel, accommodation and pastoral care for those unable to find apprenticeships close to the parental home or coming out of the care system. Organise or support independent guidance for teenagers and parents which cover the support available from employers and/or their training providers, not just the content and/or location of the apprenticeships.

9 Encourage the use of new technology (including AI) to enable the identification of diverse talents and special educational needs to be routinely included in mainstream early learning (and other) educational materials available at no cost over the Grids for Learning and to also enable suitable materials to subsequently be available at much lower cost for use at home and in school,

10 Work with and through the Better Hiring Institute to address right to work (for those without a current UK passport) and vetting/accreditation issues for regulated industries and the public sector to facilitate, expedite and level up the recruitment and training of all suitable residents.


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