On 21st January 2021, the government released the long-awaited ‘Skills for Jobs White Paper’, outlining a series of measures to refocus the post-16 education system around the needs of employers. This week, we’ve taken a look at the measures proposed in the White Paper and its initial reception.
Which challenges does the White Paper seek to address?
A main driver for change in the Further Education (FE) sector is to ensure it’s producing a pipeline of skilled talent that’s in line with what the post-Covid and post-Brexit economy requires. The White Paper also highlights shortages in key roles (technicians, engineers and health & social care professionals) that will need to be filled in order to meet the needs of the labour market.
The FE sector’s funding structure means it can’t currently be responsive to these needs. There also needs to be a stronger relationship between industry and colleges to make significant changes to the provision of post-16 technical skills.
What do the key measures set out in the White Paper include?
£65 million strategic development fund
Chambers of Commerce, among other business networks, will work together with colleges to develop tailored Local Skills Improvement Plans to meet training needs at a local level. This will be supported by a Strategic Development Fund of £65M to pilot and action the plans and establish new college business centres to facilitate innovation and collaboration with employers.
Shaping technical courses from employers
By 2030, employers will be granted the tools and a core role in designing most technical courses. This will ensure that the quality of training and education that people receive is related to the skills needed for jobs and align with the approach taken for apprenticeship design that has already been successfully tested.
Stimulating the uptake and enhancing the quality of Higher Technical Qualifications
This will ensure greater skills provision in industries where there is a gap. On an individual level, it provides improved career prospects for learners including higher earning potential, specialist skills provision and professional development. From September 2022, newly approved qualifications will be introduced and supported by a government-backed quality assurance and approval process.
Flexible student finance from 2025 so people can continuously learn and retrain throughout their lives
This change supports the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It enables adults without a Level 3 qualification to achieve one and offers a loan equivalent to four years post-18 study for those wishing to access technical education.
A revamp of the accountability and funding rules for providers
This will mean that funding is more effectively put towards supporting the highest quality training and education that fulfils the needs of employers. In addition, new powers will exist to intervene when colleges are delivering outcomes that fall below the agreed employer-led standards.
A UK-wide recruitment campaign
A nationwide campaign will be launched to attract more talent to teach in FE and investment in high quality professional development will also be implemented, including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme.
Whilst many may have been waiting for a “revolutionary” plan, it has largely been seen as “evolutionary” across the sector – consolidating and building on existing practice and initiatives. However, many agree that the paper further bolsters the government’s commitment to technical education so more people can obtain the skills they need to find employment and meet the skills needs of the labour market.
It will be interesting to see whether the measures posed will challenge the stigma that a degree is not the only route to success, and that further and technical education career pathways are strongly valued by a wealth of industries.