From education to employment

IfATE will drive up quality and unite the skills system

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE)

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act becoming law has cleared the way for IfATE to improve the quality, simplify, and unite the skills system.

We started out by making sure employers led with designing and improving the quality of apprenticeships. That’s the best way to fill the economy’s skills gaps and make sure apprentices are set up for great careers by learning exactly what businesses need.

IfATE followed that up by doing the same thing with T Levels (level three) and Higher Technical Qualifications (levels four and five). Passage of this legislation will now allow us to extend the reforms across most other technical qualifications.

However, raising standards across the board isn’t enough. We need to make sure that everyone, including school leavers and disadvantaged adults who need a leg up with their careers, know all about the opportunities out there and can access them. 

Measures in the Act to strengthen the Baker Clause and support better schools’ careers advice on technical education will help a lot, but we must help the careers advisors.

They need to be able to show the next generation inspiring and easy to grasp examples of how to get the job they want and then progress to senior levels, supported by world class training every step of the way.

There were over 14,000 technical qualifications in 2021, including over 8,000 just for levels two and three. Large numbers of these are fantastic but the choice is overwhelming. That will change when approval and re-approval of all technical qualifications is guided by whether they’re really needed by employers and produce fantastic outcomes for learners.

We must also clearly chart all the training options. There isn’t a central place where everything’s pulled together at the moment but that’s another area where IfATE plan to make improvements. 

Our occupational maps currently just cover apprenticeships, but they will in future incorporate all technical qualifications that match up to employers’ standards.

These must form the bedrock of all skills training advice from the National Careers Service and Careers and Enterprise Company.

We have already come a long way as a sector but there’s much more to do. The days when too much skills training steered less academic people into low-skilled work with little opportunity for promotion, or in the worst cases didn’t even get them a job, are coming to an end.

We won’t be turning back the clock and lowering standards to artificially inflate starts. Creating good quality apprenticeships and classroom based technical qualifications and helping young and disadvantaged people access them, is the best way to improve social mobility in the long-term.

IfATE is also improving how we gather and act on insights and intelligence from the thousands of large and small employers who guide our work and will increasingly shape the integrated system. These insights will eventually be made public in regular reports which will support and help improve the wider work of the sector.

IfATE is determined to work ever closer with employers, training providers, awarding organisations, careers advisors and our partners in Department for Education, Ofqual, and Office for Students. Producing the best possible results for learners and businesses is a collaborative effort. 

I firmly believe that we stand on the verge of creating something that we have never really had in this country – a truly integrated skills system that works for everyone.

By Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE)

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