Skills: Why isn’t England’s current approach working?

Posted on 17 Jan 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Businesses, the government and learning providers are being urged to adopt a fresh approach to skills in 2018, with a focus on a national policy agreement and local business leadership.

Stock - 4ir skills recruitment workforce staff employee - front office and back office.
Too often skills reforms have been well-intentioned, but do not work for learners or businesses across the country.

Almost 30 skills reforms in 30 years have alienated businesses, confused learning providers and failed to deliver the skills the country requires.

That’s the conclusion of a new report published by leading business group, the CBI.

As a consequence, the CBI is urging policy makers, businesses and providers to collaborate and design a stable national framework – based on the government regulating for quality, rather than designing qualifications as has happened in the past.

Businesses are clear the current reform programme can meet skills needs, the report states, so long as government ensures it reflects businesses’ views on new T-Levels, apprenticeship reforms and the National Retraining Partnership.

CBI’s managing director for People policy, Neil Carberry commented: “Skills are vital if we are to adapt to new technologies, increase our global competitiveness and deliver higher wages.

“They are the very heart of a successful industrial strategy. But that means we need a skills approach that lasts for 50 years, not five.

“Too often reforms have been well-intentioned, but do not work for learners or businesses across the country, so the system is reinvented again. The Apprenticeship Levy is the latest example of a policy that’s not yet right – the CBI has been clear that it must evolve for the levy to work effectively.”

Since the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April 2017, figures have shown that the uptake of apprenticeships has slumped by almost two-thirds (59%) – described by Nick Peters, editorial director of The Manufacturer as, “A scandal that should both concern and enrage manufacturers”.

Key recommendations in the skills report include:

  • A national, stable and joined-up plan must be central to the government’s Industrial Strategy – developed and delivered with business and skills providers
  • Give the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education the power to regulate and report on the performance of the skills market
  • Evolve the Apprenticeship Levy into a flexible levy so firms can fund training for their people whatever the form of high quality course they do
  • Pilot local Apprenticeship Levy pooling in at least four English regions – and roll out a full system by 2020 – to better engage smaller firms in new training clusters
  • Firms should commit to engaging with skills at a senior level – and assign staff time to ensuring provision meets their needs
  • Local leaders, including LEPs, Mayors, businesses and learning providers must create local skills plans that address their demands.