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England needs an Adult Skills White Paper not a Further Education White Paper

Adrian Anderson, UVAC

The Government’s Approach to Adult Skills 

There is much to welcome in the Prime Minister’s announcements on Adult Skills. England needs better technical education and a better approach to Adult Skills. A Lifetime Skills guarantee makes sense, as do better credit transfer arrangements, better access to loans for individuals following higher technical qualifications and greater availability of bite sized, segmented and short programmes of study.

UVAC believes in, and will support our members, to deliver this agenda.

In taking forward its proposals the Government will need to pay attention to the following issues:

1. Adult Skills Policy and Provision Needs to Focus on the Needs of the Economy

The key driver for adult skills provision must be to ensure individuals have the right skills for high productivity jobs and to delivery high quality public sector services. This means provision should be based on current and future employer skills needs evident nationally and / or locally.

Level 3 provision will be important, but in many cases adults will need upskilling or re-skilling for a level 4, 5, 6 or level 7 role – in engineering, healthcare or the digital sector, for example.

As the Chancellor has made clear England needs to train people for high productivity jobs.

Covid 19 has hit low paid and insecure jobs the hardest and post-Covid we must support individuals train and retrain for more secure and high productivity occupations. To compete internationally England needs ambition and post-Brexit we must go way beyond focusing adult skills provision on level 3 skills.

2. Avoiding Distractions

Arguably, the biggest failure of the English education system is that after 11 years of compulsory education a third of young people do not gain a full level 2 qualification. No one would argue that individuals without level 2 qualifications do not need support.

It would, however, be a tragedy if adult skills policy was to become a sticking plaster to fix poor school performance.

Schools should ensure all pupils gain a full level 2 qualification. In contrast, adult skills policy must focus on up skilling and re skilling the workforce for occupations needed at levels 3 to 7 to raise UK productivity and deliver key public sector services.

3. Who Pays and for What Provision?

Government has made a bold commitment that adults over 23 without a full level 3 qualification will be offered a level 3 technical qualification for free.

Rightly, Government also wants individuals who wish to follow higher technical qualifications to have better access to loans. This though is just scratching the surface of the issue.

A national conversation is needed on who pays and for what; Government, individuals and employers?

How could Government incentivise employers to invest more in training individuals for new green economy, digital or logistics roles?

Poor management skills are a key causal factor for low UK productivity. Adult skills provision must therefore have a focus on enhancing management skills.

Should skills need (defined by skills gaps and shortages) rather than the educational level of a programme be the key factor in determining the extent of the Government financial contribution to an adult skills programme?

4. Adult Skills Policy Must Focus on Further and Higher Education

Further Education should be celebrated and needs to be better funded, but further education does not equate to adult skills. Approaches to upskilling and re-skilling will be needed at all levels and will require the expertise of colleges, universities and commercial training providers. We must place the needs of the economy before dogma. England needs an Adult Skills White Paper not a Further Education White Paper.

We need both colleges and universities to be the go-to organisations for employers wanting to upskill and re-skill the workforce.

This will call for new partnerships and innovative ways of developing and designing new, bespoke programmes delivered through flexible work-integrated, online as well as classroom-based programmes, building on existing good practice.  

Short, bite-sized programmes as part of a credit accumulation and transfer system is something UVAC has been pushing for years. Not surprisingly we fully support the Government’s emphasis on the importance of such programmes and such a system.

Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC)

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