At the beginning of this month, the Government published a new skills strategy, Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills.
At EEF we like a strategy (as long as it is clear, concise and benefits manufacturers). We published our own strategy in our Route to Growth campaign, where we called for an Industrial Strategy that resulted in a stronger, better-balanced economy. Within our strategy skills plays a leading role.
Unlike others, we praised the publication of this new Government strategy. We went against some critics who argued that it provided nothing new, but isn't that what we have long been calling for – consistency?
If Government had published a strategy that was completely off-track from the Richard Review, Wolf Report and work by the UKCES on Employer Ownership, then yes we would be the first to criticise, but for me it takes the key ideas from the good work that has been done and provides a roadmap for the skills system in the near future.
Manufacturers have long called for a responsive skills system that puts the employer (and the learner) in the driving seat.
Our Skills for Growth report clearly demonstrated the current failings in the skills market, much of which stems from a lack of rigour and responsiveness – the fundamental elements of this new strategy.
So what is Government committing to and how will it benefit manufacturers?
First up is a stronger focus on raising standards – recognising those good quality FE colleges and providers and cracking down on those that deliver poor provision. Only one in five manufacturers finds it easier to find a responsive training provider now than two years ago (pretty low considering the hike in the number of providers in recent years).
If we are to curb the growing number of ‘inadequate' providers and signpost employers to the ‘outstanding' ones, we need to give employers accessible and accurate information on the quality of provision.
Perhaps unbeknown to many young people, UCAS offers a service called Progress that allows pre-16 and post-16 year olds to find courses and providers in a selected area that meets their needs. Why not take this one step further and adopt the ‘trip-advisor- approach to providers that allows users to rate their value?
This then relates to the objective to use funding to improve responsiveness. The Employer Ownership Pilots have clearly demonstrated that employers are willing to step up and take ownership; investing above and beyond the public money they have been allocated. Let's now focus on how SMEs can be more involved in these Pilots, and not forgetting our preference for Apprenticeship funding to be routed directly to the employer.
We need to ensure that qualifications are relevant and recognised by industry.
Our own stats revealed only one in five companies find vocational qualifications more relevant now than two years ago. Government is beginning to crack down on this, with a commitment to ensure only the best, quality qualifications remain. The success of University Technical Colleges demonstrates how employer involvement can be of real benefit so a commitment to focus on those qualifications with strong employer input is welcomed.
Next up - Traineeships - which will offer a combination of work preparation, high quality work placement and training in English and maths. With the focus now on Apprenticeships at Level 3 and above (an ambition we welcome and have called for), there will be a gap in the market. If Government works with employers on the design and the development of Traineeships, this model could provide the springboard many young people - who haven't quite reached the attainment levels required by employers - need to enter onto an Apprenticeship, into HE or full-time employment.
And finally, my favourite subject - Apprenticeships....
Two-thirds of EEF members offer Apprenticeships
....a commitment to reform Apprenticeships to ensure that quantity is matched by quality. Standards must be set by employers and an Apprentice's competence must not be judged in a ‘tick-box' manner but looking at what they can do at the end of the training - which should essentially be the job.
75% of EEF members said ALL their apprentices were given permanent roles upon completion of the training).
It may not be perfect but this strategy is a positive step forward. Government must not lose momentum however and we will be pushing for swift implementation.