Summer Homework for our new skills and education Ministers

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From tomorrow, the House of Commons is in Recess. This will give some of our Ministers and Secretaries of State the opportunity to reflect on their new posts and drum up ideas ready to swing into action in September. So we have set some homework for those new to the skills and education brief. We've given our answers – but what will theirs be?

Nick Boles MP – Minister for Skills and Enterprise

Q1 – How can Government best continue to drive forward the employer ownership of skills agenda?

EEF Answer: The Employer Ownership of Skills agenda has been welcomed by businesses, who have had the opportunity to take greater control of the skills system and deliver projects that meet their specific needs. The recent announcement of £30m of funding specifically for engineering companies has demonstrated that Government has fully acknowledged that in the engineering sector skills are scarce and employers need support in accessing the skills they need. However, the current contribution thresholds for employers to be eligible for the Fund, and the decision that businesses are not allowed to collaborate, has deterred those companies in most need – SMEs - from engaging. Government must immediately address these concerns.

Q2 – How can Government ensure a smooth transition towards employer-routed funding for Apprenticeships?

EEF Answer: EEF fully supports the principle of giving employers control of apprenticeship funding; enabling them to become the customer and demand the quality, relevant provision they have been seeking. The mechanism that will be used is still being consulted on. In order to ensure a smooth transition to this brave new world, government should slow down the reforms and not make decisions in haste. Further consultation with business is essential - not only on the preferred mechanism but how the system will work in practice.

Rt Hon Greg Clark MP – Minister for Universities and Science

Q1 – How can we ensure that engineering graduates are leaving university with the relevant experience and knowledge demanded by employers?

EEF Answer: Some 66% of manufacturers plan to recruit an engineering graduate in the next three years. However, employers have raised concerns as to the quality of those leaving the higher education system. In particular, employers are looking for graduates with industry experience which can be acquired through internships and placements. Government should therefore ensure all HE courses include at least an optional placement year to encourage this. In addition, government should support businesses to engage more with universities to encourage employers to get involved in the design and development of courses to ensure they meet industry needs. Much of this is around access to information – government, together with the HE sector and industry, should develop a model like the National Apprenticeship Service to host this information.

Q2 – How can Government ensure that universities have the capacity and capability to deliver high quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses demanded by employers?

EEF Answer: Since 2010, the number of engineering degrees has increased by around 8.6%. However, there remains a significant gap between applications and acceptances. Some of this may have been due to the restrictions on student numbers. However, this has now been lifted. The difficulties faced by universities are that they don't have the resources to deliver more engineering courses. The cost of delivering an engineering course is greater than the fee paid by the learner and the top up premium. The recent £200m fund to improve STEM teaching is welcome, but this is a short-term fix. Government needs to deliver a long-term strategy to ensure that universities are not rejecting capable engineering undergraduates, who are desperately required by industry, due to a lack of capacity.

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP – Secretary of State for Education

Q1 – How can we ensure young people know about the opportunities of a career in manufacturing?

EEF Answer: Here we should let the numbers speak for themselves – over six in ten manufacturers say delivering specific, informed, careers advice in schools will encourage more young people into manufacturing. This must be the focus for Government. Careers ‘inspiration' should begin in Primary School – this should be a light touch approach that gives children an idea of what they could do in the future. Prior to making subject choices at Key Stage 4, young people should have access to independent face-to-face advice, which should continue onto Key Stage 5. Work-based learning and work experience should begin in Key Stage 4 and again be encouraged throughout Key Stage 5.

Q2 – How can we better broker relationships between employers and local schools?

EEF Answer: EEF members are already heavily engaged with schools – seven in ten offer work experience and over half offer site visits or go into schools. However, we need to see more of this happening. There are many occasions when companies, in particular SMEs, say they struggle to engage with schools – this can be because they don't have the right contacts or don't know how to ‘sell themselves' to local schools. There is still some myth-busting to do around health and safety legislation, and insurance liabilities, but much of this can be overcome with appropriate guidance. What Government needs to do is require all schools to engage with employers as part of delivering careers provision – changing the wording of the current guidance on careers provision from ‘should' engage to ‘must' engage is a quick and simple solution. We also need to ensure that those teachers delivering careers advice, whether informally or specifically, know about local labour market opportunities. Therefore teachers should be required to spend two to five days in local industry to better understand the opportunities outside their school's doorstep.

Well that's an A* for EEF…..but how will our new Ministers and Secretary of State score?

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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