ICYMI: Education, skills and employment policy announcements from Conservative Party Conference

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Party Conference season can be a busy time. Secretaries of States make speeches and within those speeches, we begin to get nuggets of information - for example the Chancellor with his mention of flexibilities around the Levy, and did you know the Business Secretary announced a consultation on employers publishing their parental leave and pay policies?

We’ve been doing a bit of digging to find some meat on the bones to some of the big announcements….

 

1. Apprenticeship Levy: flexibility and a review
Ahh the Apprenticeship Levy. Many a blog I have written on this topic. This would have been a win-win policy had it not been for the rigidness and complexity of the whole thing. It’s resulted in somewhat of a lose-lose situation, with a huge fall in starts and employers powerless to spend their funds.

But let’s not dwell on the negatives, let’s take a look at some of the positives. What did the Chancellor announce?

  • Increase in the amount a Levy payer can transfer: the Chancellor announced that Levy paying companies will be able to transfer up to 25% of their unused funds to another employer from April 2019 (that’s up from 10% now). This is a policy win for us, as we called for the amount to be increased in our report published earlier this year.
  • £5m for the Institute for Apprenticeships: A cash injection for the Institute for Apprenticeships, so that they can develop more standards in key areas. We’ve just put in our submission for the upcoming Budget which includes a call to prioritise standard development in areas where there are skills shortages. So we’ll take that as an early Budget win!
  • A full review of the operation of the Levy: Finally – what we’ve been waiting for and what we recommended in our 2017 report – Lifting the Lid on the Levy. Next steps for us will be to continue to consult closely with EEF members on what a post-2020 Apprenticeship Levy may look like.

 

2. Consultation on employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies
Pay transparency and parental leave have been a focus for this Government and indeed the Coalition Government before. The introduction of shared parental leave and gender pay gap reporting were two flagship policies.

This week the Business Secretary announced that the Government will consult on requiring employers with more than 250 staff to publish their parental leave and pay policies, so that job applicants can make informed decisions about whether they can combine the role with caring for their family.

We know that many manufacturers already offer enhanced parental leave and pay, in particular maternity leave and pay, which manufacturers use to attract and retain women. What the Government wants to explore is whether to require employers to publish this info.  If you have views on this please do get in touch.

3. Teacher training and technical education boost

The Chancellor may have taken the limelight for the Levy but the Education Secretary still had some announcements up his sleeve too. In particular we were interested in:

  • Teacher training bursaries extended to grads with 2:2: In music, history, design and technology and religious. D&T trainee teachers with a 2:2 will get a bursary of £12,000.  The bit we are interested in is D&T as we’ve seen a sharp fall in take up of D&T at GCSE and teacher recruitment is one of the challenges so hope this will reverse the current trends.
  • 1,300 careers leaders in schools and 20 new employer networks: The careers strategy pledged £4 million to train career leaders in 500 schools, and £5 million for 20 network hubs. A further £5 million was pledged extending the number of schools affected to 1,300 and creating another 20 networks, taking the total to 40. Careers provision is hugely important so any cash injection that may help to inspire young people to consider a career in manufacturing is good in our eyes.
  • £38 million capital funding boost for schools and colleges in the first wave of T-levels: Looks like in addition to the capacity delivery fund. The funding is expected to be available from spring next year, before the first T-levels begin in September 2020. We’ve been calling for more support for employers (as well as providers) to deliver the work placement element of T Levels so hope this will follow. We’ve also called for Government to ensure that T Levels have equal funding to academic learning.

4. The EU migration system is looking suspiciously like that of the non-EU system
When the Migration Advisory Committee published its Review, it recommended no preferential treatment for EU nationals and it looks like the Prime Minister is thinking the same way. And it seems she’s also agreeing with their proposals to focus on highly skilled workers, and not make it easy for employers to recruit EU nationals for low skilled roles. Here’s a roundup of what we know far courtesy of the BBC:
  • The passports of short-stay tourists and business people from all "low-risk" countries would be scanned at e-gates - currently only EU citizens can do this.
  • Security and criminal records checks would be carried out before visits, similar to the system of prior authorisation in the US.
  • Workers wanting to stay for longer periods would need a minimum salary, to "ensure they are not competing with people already in the UK".
  • Successful applicants for high-skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family, but only if sponsored by their future employers.

The new system will not cap the number of student visas. This isn’t looking like the flexible migration system that allows employers to access talent across Europe that manufacturers were looking for. As always the devil is in the detail, so let’s hope that when the White Paper is published it gives us some positive detail and we aren’t heading for a future migration system that mirrors that of the costly and complex non-EU system.

 

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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