From education to employment

Pathways for ALL young people

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Our sector needs to develop positive pathways for all young people and we can’t afford the risks of waiting for new skills Ministers or new governments says Stewart Segal.

We recently saw the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships Robert Halfon resign from his post. Whatever anyone thought of the current skills policies we all believed that Robert Halfon was a great advocate for Apprenticeships, skills and widening participation. I for one am sorry he is going especially this year when we know there is a general election coming and government policy direction and changes are up for grabs. Most of the representative organisations in the sector will no doubt have to focus on influencing policy and getting ideas into the various manifestos. 

There is a danger in focussing too much on policy issues rather than the sector coming together

There is a danger in focussing too much on policy issues rather than the sector coming together and making an impact by working together and driving improvements in the sector by doing things better. As someone who has spent more than their fair share in lobbying and influencing, I realise that we as a sector can drive improvements through practical changes within the current policy framework. I am not saying that policy changes and decisions around resources are not important but there are things we can do whoever is in government.

Pathways for All

A good example is the fantastic work that the Commission on young people and their pathways have done over recent months. This group of committed experts brought together by Youth Employment UK has written a paper Pathways for All, setting out some key principles of how we make the offer to young people more effective and responsive. 

Our government should stop defunding level 2 and 3 qualifications

The paper recommends a framework within which everyone in the sector can drive a personalised programme for every young person that reflects what they need and therefore provides employers with the skilled and committed workforce that works for everyone. Of course, we will be talking to all political parties and regional and local governments about the principles behind this framework but there is so much we can do within the current education and skills policy framework. Yes, our government should stop defunding level 2 and 3 qualifications that we need but developing the principles of an ‘entitlement’ for young people as set out in the document is something we can work together on with or without changes in government policy. We need to get on with it as the issues for young people in making the transition between education, training and work do not get any easier.

We will need to influence the policy direction for the Levy

Similarly, I have no doubt that we will need to influence the policy direction for the Levy, the Apprenticeship budgets and programme flexibility for each of the main parties over the next few months. In the meantime, we need to work together to develop the ideas of how we can maximise the flexibilities within the current policy framework to ensure we can deliver an apprenticeship programme that reinforces the principle of providing a transition to work and a route for changing and developing careers.

In particular, we need to ensure that young people without many skills and much experience can make the transition to an apprenticeship programme especially since the changes to the Traineeship programme removed that opportunity for many. There are many ways we can flex the apprenticeship programme to ensure that gap is filled but we can’t wait until after the election and new policies developed for that important step. It’s what many employers want and they need it now.

Many ways we can flex the apprenticeship programme

There is no doubt that the investment in apprenticeships has grown under the leadership of Robert Halfon (although I never agreed with his focus on degree apprenticeships) but we also have issues around delivery and resources in many sectors. We need to ensure that the key players in the sector who will clearly need to influence political parties to drive their own agendas also use this time to work together to drive practical improvements to the system that respond to the needs of young people and those who need additional help and support to make the transition into work. Of course, we wish Luke Hall (the new Skills Minister) every success. There are longer term issues that the sector players need to find solutions for.

The sector has to come up with solutions sooner rather than later

There are big issues across the skills and education sector with solutions affected by reducing budgets, devolution and policy reform but I make no apologies for focusing on young people and those who need additional support . It is three times more likely that a young person will be unemployed and that becomes much worse for those with a disability. As Chair of Youth Employment UK I know there is much we can do as set out in the Commission’s report Pathways for All and this requires all players in the sector to work together and provide the solutions that will work for young people and employers. We cannot wait for a new government or even a new Minister. 

There are clearly some major policy decisions that would support young people like a halt on defunding qualifications until we have looked more closely at the impact and looking again at the funding of apprenticeship programmes for young people where the costs of delivery are higher on average than for more experienced people. The sector cannot afford a year of waiting for new governments and the departure of Robert Halfon reminds us that the sector has to come up with solutions sooner rather than later.

Stewart Segal, Chair of YEUK and Board Member of AELP

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