“One million young people left on the scrapheap”. That was among the many headlines about the latest unemployment figures, which also showed total unemployment reaching over 2.5 million, the worst levels since 1994.
The response to this major challenge of our times lies in the wider economy, both worldwide and at home, and involves many factors. But one key issue in supporting the economic growth which will lead to jobs growth must be investing in the education and skills of our population. There is now a general recognition across the piece that the levels of learning in the country play a major role in determining our capability to compete in the world market place and that includes instilling the attributes of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurialism.
So the further education and skills sector has an important role to play in reacting to the challenge of unemployment. And that is certainly recognised by Government.
I attend the regular Ministerial meetings with a host of leaders from both employers and further information and skills. At the heart of these meetings lies a strong will to join up the agendas of skills and employment, to encourage joint working, and to break down barriers. No longer is it a matter of “qualifications first” or “jobs first” – both are seen as equally important.
The same message can be seen in the emphasis which the Skills Funding Agency is placing on progression into jobs, and in the actions I have seen among many colleges and other providers, working in partnership with others, to help get their learners into employment, for example with a job centre or employment agency on site.
What then is LSIS doing to support this agenda? In our recent Strategic Intentions document, we identified that one of our core priorities for action is to “support the sector in new areas for programme development (including…. work with the unemployed)”.
At one of the joint meetings with Ministers, the importance of closer working between colleges, providers and Jobcentre Plus was identified as key. LSIS had already been considering how to support this – and discovered that the AELP and AoC had similar plans. So we joined forces, and LSIS recently supported an AELP-led pilot in South Yorkshire based around “speed dating” – a concept introduced through our work on Minimum Contract Levels to help as many partners as practicable to get to know each other and what they offer, and to exchange details in a short period.
Our support meant that more colleges and providers’ representatives could attend than might otherwise have been possible. We have set funds aside to enable the wider roll out of this approach.
What else are we doing? In our newly published “LSIS Improvement Services 2011- 2012” brochure, where we set out all our strands of activity, we have a section on “getting people into work”. This strand will help build and strengthen regional partnerships and support providers to grow their provision to meet the needs of different groups to achieve positive job outcomes. This will be done through regional and local workshops, which will build on the activities described above. And we also plan a range of LSIS-funded, provider-led development projects which propose to trial innovative solutions, and from which we can disseminate effective practice.
Our range of support for colleges and other providers delivering literacy, language and numeracy is highly relevant, as these skills are core to getting and retaining employment. We have a particular focus on numeracy this year. We also have an on-line “employability starter kit” of resources for those developing employability provision.
And we are also supporting providers to improve the career development services they provide to help learners, including unemployed learners, to make the best choices – a new “blueprint for careers” – to help people plan, manage and develop.
We can also point to relevant projects under the Regional Response Fund which I established soon after joining LSIS, in answer to calls made during regional conversations with colleges and other providers that there should be greater scope for local solutions to local needs, but with an eye to learning and disseminating lessons more widely. Examples include London Colleges working collectively to address key issues around employability; the promotion of collaboration to support the unemployed in the South East; and work with the voluntary sector in the West Midlands
The future prosperity of the nation lies in making the most of the skills and talents of our people and putting them to work. It is terrible to see so many people, particularly young people, unemployed. As colleges and providers, you will all be helping people up and down the country to improve their learning and skills and progress into employment. At LSIS we will be working hard to help and support you in your endeavours.
Rob Wye is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, which aims to accelerate the drive for excellence in the learning and skills sector