An action plan for world-beating skills

2 October 2017

Technology and the internet are revolutionising the global economy. If we are to succeed and continue to enjoy a very good standard of living we must be able to provide goods and services that are among the best in the world. And we have to be able to do that efficiently and competitively. This requires a highly-skilled workforce.

So where do we start from? Overall the skills of our workforce in general are lower than many of our competitors. That is not to say we do not have some very excellent people, just not enough of them. Our productivity is 35% below Germany and 30% below the US, according to the OECD.

The UK’s challenges developing the skills of our workforce are not new. Brexit is not the trigger for these problems, it just brings it into focus.

Over the last twenty years a series of well-intentioned policy reforms have failed during implementation, resulting in frustration and cynicism. People say “it’s going to fail like ‘diplomas’ did” or “this is the third time I’ve heard about an industrial strategy“.

We have an academic system which is excellent, but our skills development system often lacks of consistency and stability e.g.. A-Levels are stable whereas skills qualifications have never been.

The Wolfe, Richard and Sainsbury’s reports have all resulted in the reforms we are now trying to implement. This will improve the quality of our apprenticeships and technical education (T-Levels). The policy direction is right.

However, the reforms are seen by many as separate initiatives. They are not. They are the single biggest skills reform package in a generation. Bigger than other major projects like HS2, the Olympics and nuclear power.

Unfortunately, we haven’t all got to grips with the scale of it yet. But we must, as failure is not an option. Our economy will not succeed if we have yet another failed initiative. These reforms must be made to work, despite the substantial ‘implementation difficulties’ we currently face.

Progress so far has been slow, understandably so given we are in a developmental phase. But now we need to step-up the pace. The five areas we need to make urgent progress on are:

  1. Transferring ownership for the reforms from government to industry and the employers, through the Institute for Apprenticeships and new technical education;
  2. Fully set-up the Institute, staffed with people from industry;
  3. Map career pathways across all sectors, so we are clear what apprenticeships and T-Levels are needed, how they support and integrate with each other, and what are the priorities are;
  4. Streamline the development process and integrate the target for a 30 per cent productivity improvement; and
  5. Step up communications to employers, young people, parents and those in the workforce.

If employers, training institutes (both public and private), and assessment and awarding organisations all pull together, we can make this work. It’s time to fix our skills problem and create an approach which is stable, establishing a robust apprenticeship system with integrated T-Levels, respected by all, and as world beating as our A-Levels and higher education.

Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN Group

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