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GOVERNMENT’S SKILLS AGENDA IS A CASE OF ‘TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK’

Press Release   •   Nov 17, 2016 10:33 GMT

Fewer, bigger changes and a more consistent, long-term approach to the skills policymaking are a step in the right direction – but positive steps to align technical and academic education could be jeopardised by failure to get businesses on side, research published today warns.

Two years after the City & Guilds Group published Sense & Instability: three decades of skills and employment policy, a follow-up review has revealed that despite positive steps to simplify and improve the system, many of the underlying barriers to effective skills and employment policymaking remain. As a result, there is concern that recent measures, including the apprenticeship levy, the Post-16 Skills Plan and the Area Based Reviews of colleges, will fail to deliver the skills needed by the economy or reduce the UK’s productivity shortfall.

With the Technical & Further Education Bill proceeding through Parliament – despite the lack of any formal Green Paper consultation process as there was regarding grammar schools– the City & Guilds Group is urging the Government to take a step back and learn from the mistakes of the past, such as the short-lived 14-19 Diplomas. The report notes that employer unwillingness to engage with Government initiatives has been a key factor in past failures; for current reforms to be successful, business leaders need to be convinced that what is proposed will provide added value.

The report concludes that while efforts to improve the perception of vocational education and increase employer engagement in training have been positive, sustained progress is in jeopardy because:

  • Policymakers continue to fail to take advantage of organisational memory.
  • There is a negative trend toward reforms that may limit learning opportunities for young people and unemployed adults
  • Despite the positive moves with the apprenticeship scheme the Government has not yet succeeded in generating sufficient support and ownership from employers, with sustained opposition from business groups and the FE sector.

The report further notes that Theresa May’s recent ministerial reshuffle and the modified Whitehall structure – which switched skills and FE to the Department for Education - represents the 11th time that this policy area has changed departments or been shared between departments since the 1980s. There have now been 65 Secretaries of State responsible for skills and employment policy in that period (compared with 19 for schools policy and 19 for higher education). This has raised fears that the current system is too disjointed to ensure a consolidated and coherent approach to policy.

Following this review, the City & Guilds Group is calling for the Government to:

  • Develop a consolidated, consultative approach to FE and skills policy, including the establishment of an independent body responsible for evaluating the Government’s policies, along the lines of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.
  • Ensure continuous dialogue and consultation with sector experts and employers is integral to the design and implementation of the Post-16 Skills Plan.
  • Ensure learning opportunities for youth and disadvantaged groups by making more apprenticeships available for the under-24s and unemployed adults.
  • Focus on increasing the quality of apprenticeships first, and focus on targets later, and ensure more are available at higher levels, and in sectors with the largest skills gaps.
  • Encourage greater cross-sectoral collaboration to enable employers and providers to adopt best practice from the most successful apprenticeships, such as those in the automotive sector, construction and engineering.
  • Provide greater transparency around the practicalities of the reformed apprenticeship system, and particularly the levy, and commit to deadlines to provide further information.
  • Minimise the burden of bureaucracy on employers as far as possible.
  • Consider broadening the levy to include funding for other forms of training.

Commenting on the report, Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, said: ‘The Government has taken some really positive steps to enhance the skills system, and raise the profile of apprenticeships and technical education. Support for apprenticeships is ever-increasing, and there has been a real drive to simplify the system and boost its reputation. But when it comes to implementation, it’s a case of two steps forward and one step back. Issues such as lack of organisational memory and consultation persist, which put any progress we’ve made over the past few years at risk.

‘If the Government truly wants a skills system that boosts our country’s competitiveness and productivity, it has to take its time rather than rushing straight for the finish line. That means working with employers and skills experts to shape implementation so that our skills system meets the needs of our economy now, and in the short and long-term future.’

Dr Ann Limb, CBE DL, Trustee of the City & Guilds Group, Chair at SEMLEP and the Scouts Association said: ‘We now have, for the first time since 1997, a Conservative majority Government. In terms of public policy, I see links back to their past ideology, such as the 1989 Education Reform Act and the 1992 Reform Act. Many of the developments covered in this report – the Area Based Reviews, reforms to funding methodology, the apprenticeship levy and so on – pick up trends from 20 years ago.

‘The Government champions apprenticeships and employer ownership, whereas previous changes have been voluntary. Now, there is legislation that requires employers to train people – and if the Government can get the quality, funding and mechanisms right, by 2020 we will start to see change for the better. Because for employers to stay competitive, whether they are small, medium or large, they need to have the best possible talent.’

Kate Shoesmith, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Recruitment & Employment Confederation:

‘A major barrier to economic growth is the lack of skilled staff in key sectors. Our data shows that it is getting harder for recruiters to find people for the jobs available and employers predict particular shortages in sourcing engineering, technical and healthcare professionals in the short to medium term. As this report identifies, we need to work with government, not against them, to build the talent pipeline and support more young people into work, and we all need to learn from past experiences. There are three things we think the Government should be prioritising here: an effective careers guidance network, embedding better employability skills within education, and high-quality, employer-led apprenticeships.’

The report is available to download here.

Notes to editor

Behind the figures

Since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, responsibility for skills policy has been taken on by 65 (up from 61 in 2014) different ministers. This is in comparison with 19 (up from 18) ministers in charge of schools policy over the same period, and 19 (up from 16) in charge of higher education. The figures account for Ministers who have held the same role at different stages in their career (thus requiring a handover of policy) and those whose roles have been renamed, or who have held a different portfolio that also covers skills.

Skills policy

  • 2015+ and onwards: Sajid Javid (BIS); Justine Greening (DfE): Stephen Crabb (DwP); Damian Green (DwP
  • Coalition: Vince Cable (BIS); Nicky Morgan (DfE); Michael Gove (DfE); Iain Duncan-Smith (DwP).
  • New Labour: Lord Mandelson (BIS); Lord Mandeleson (BERR); Yvette Cooper (DWP); James Purnell (DWP); John Hutton (BERR); Peter Hain (DWP); John Hutton (DWP); Ed Balls (DCSF); David Blunkett (DWP); John Denham MP (DIUS); Alan Johnson (DfES); Alan Johnson (DWP); Ruth Kelly (DfES); Charles Clarke (DfES); Andrew Smith (DWP); Alistair Darling (DWP); Estelle Morris (DfES); David Blunkett (DfEE); Alistair Darling (DTI); Alan Johnson (DTI); Alistair Darling (Social Security); Harriet Harman (Social Security); Patricia Hewitt (DTI); Stephen Byers (DTI); Peter Mandelson (DTI); Margaret Beckett (DTI)
  • John Major: Gillian Shephard (DfEE); Michael Portillo; John Patten (DfE); David Hunt DE); Gillian Shepherd (DE); Ian Lang (DTI); Michael Heseltine (DTI); Peter Lilley (Social Security)
  • Margaret Thatcher: Michael Howard (DE); Tony Newton (Social Security); John Moore (Social Security); Kenneth Clarke (DES); Norman Fowler (DE); Mark Carlisle (Education and Science); John MacGregor (DfES); Kenneth Baker (DfES) Lord Young (Department for Employment); Tom King (DE); Sir Keith Joseph (DfES); Norman Tebbit (Department for Employment); James Prior (Department for Employment); Peter Lilley (DTI); Nicholas Ridley (DTI); Lord Young (DTI); Paul Channon (DTI); Leon Brittan (DTI); Norman Tebbit (DTI); Cecil Parkinson (DTI); Lord Cockfield (Secretary of State for Trade & President of the Board of Trade); John Biffen (DTI); John Nott – (DTI)

Schools policy

  • 2015+ and onwards: Justine Greening (DfE):
  • Coalition: Nicky Morgan (DfE); Michael Gove (DfE);
  • New Labour: Lord Mandelson (BIS); Ed Balls (DCSF); Alan Johnson (DfES); Ruth Kelly (DfES); Charles Clarke (DfES); Estelle Morris (DfES); David Blunkett (DEE)
  • John Major: Gillian Shephard (DEE); Gillian Shephard (DE); John Patten (DE); Kenneth Clarke (DES)
  • Margaret Thatcher: John MacGregor (DES); Kenneth Baker (DES); Keith Joseph (DES); Mark Carlisle (DES); Kenneth Clarke (DES)

University policy

  • 2015+ and onwards: Sajid Javid (BIS); Justine Greening (DfE); Greg Clark (BEIS)
  • Coalition: Vince Cable (BIS)
  • New Labour: John Denham MP (DIUS); Alan Johnson (DfES); Ruth Kelly (DfES); Charles Clarke (DfES); Estelle Morris (DfES); David Blunkett (DEE)
  • John Major: Gillian Shephard (DEE); Gillian Shephard (DE); John Patten (DE); Kenneth Clarke (DES)
  • Margaret Thatcher: John MacGregor (DES); Kenneth Baker (DES); Keith Joseph (DES); Mark Carlisle (DES); Kenneth Clarke (DES)

About the City & Guilds Group:

  • The City & Guilds Group is a leader in global skills development. Its purpose is to enable people and organisations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth.
  • Backed by a Royal Charter, the City & Guilds Group has over 135 years’ experience in making sure that people are prepared to contribute to successful businesses and thriving economies.
  • The City & Guilds Group partners with more than 200 companies to develop the skilled workforces that they need, and invests in learning technologies to help people learn whenever and wherever they can.
  • The City & Guilds Group is made up of City & Guilds, ILM, Kineo, The Oxford Group, Digitalme and e3Learning:
    • City & Guilds develops programmes of learning, learning technology, certification and assessment, to support colleges, training providers and governments.
    • ILM helps individuals, education providers and businesses improve the standards of leadership and management through qualifications and accredited training. ILM awards qualifications to over 95,000 managers across the world every year.
    • Kineo is a global workplace learning company. It offers a fresh approach to elearning management systems, apprenticeships and managed learning services.
    • The Oxford Group provides bespoke management training, leadership development and executive coaching to the world's leading companies.
    • Digitalme designs credentials, using open badges, to recognise individuals’ skills and talent. It works with employers, training providers and over 2,000 schools across the UK.
    • e3Learning specialises in online workforce management and elearning
  • Combined, the City & Guilds Group operates in over 100 countries, through 10,000 training centres, delivering qualifications in 26 different industries.
  • For more information about the City & Guilds Group visit: www.cityandguildsgroup.com

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