From education to employment

New Minister poses new opportunities for the skills sector

Nichola Hay

With the resignation of Robert Halfon MP, the UK Government has a new Minister responsible for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higer Education. Nichola Hay MBE from BPP explores the possible policy opportunities available to the sector moving forward.

The departure of Robert Halfon MP as the Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Minister was a shock to the apprenticeships and skills sector. Rob’s departure from his position has left the skills sector in a strong and prosperous position, with his relentless championing of Independent Training Providers.

As Luke Hall MP takes up his position in the Department for Education, it is important that the Government and industry comes together to shape the future of the skills sector to the benefit of all learners and employers. With the skills sector at such a pivotal crossroads, it is important that Luke builds upon the great foundations his predecessor lay and use the early stages of his time in the Department for Education to strengthen investment into skills in order to support the growth of the economy.

A sustainable National Skills Strategy

The defining cornerstone of future policy should focus on a comprehensive and integrated National Skills Strategy, which has so far been lacking – impacting our ability for joined up policymaking. A long-term sustainable Skills Strategy, linked to a National Industrial Strategy, which spans every Government department would reflect the important role that skills and training has in the UK economy across both a national and regional level.

With economic hubs across the country, a National Skills Strategy would be able to harness regional talent, with local Metro Mayors and local employers able to tailor individual regional needs that deliver for businesses and employees alike. Making this strategy a priority would provide the sector with a stable platform to plan, and remove recent challenges seen by short-term changes in policy and funding decisions. 

An employer and learner led system

With more than 70% of businesses facing labour shortages, it is vital that our skills sector focuses on an employer and learner-led skills system with the provision of choice at its core. The economy is developing and evolving at pace, with new technologies and ways of working shaping the way people interact with the workplace.

A system which is led by employers and learners, offering clear pathways towards an educational experience that is highly relevant, engaging and tailored to individual needs, must be a key tenet of future skills policy in order to meet skills needs for now and the future. This will ensure there are no barriers for learners, employers, training providers and other key stakeholders to operate within the Skills system.

Flexibility and simplification

The apprenticeship levy, since its introduction in 2017, has led to much success, meeting the initial goal of doubling the number of apprenticeships. However, the system is now ready to be refined and altered in order to make it compatible with the modern economy, which has shifted, and continues to shift, post-pandemic.

A high-quality apprenticeship system for all ages and skill levels, can only be achieved through ensuring all stakeholders within the skills ecosystem are involved in refining the levy. In order to do this, there must be consultation between Government and industry to ensure that flexibility within the levy is appropriate to the needs of businesses and greater transparency regarding levy receipts to ensure funds are re-invested back into the skills ecosystem.

With this in mind, it is crucial that future skills policy does not displace any group of learners from participating in apprenticeships, as a broad and diverse range of learners will be key to the future success of the economy and the gradual closing of the skills gap.

For example, it’s vital that functional skills qualifications are part of the funding and not part of exit and gateway requirements. This funding must also only however, be used to support learners that need said functional skills for their job role and career progression pathway.

Recognising the role of Independent Training Providers within the system

The skills ecosystem is dependent on an array of providers and institutions contributing towards a sector that can thrive for learners, businesses and the economy. Future skills policy, that we hope to see from the new Skills Minister, or a future Government should reflect the pivotal role that Independent Training Providers play within the skills sector.

Independent Training Providers deliver seven out of 10 apprenticeships and offer tailored workforce solutions to businesses and organisations across the country. While future policy will do well to recognise that the success of the sector is dependent on a broad church of organisations including higher education providers and colleges, political stakeholders must understand that Independent Training Providers play a vital role.

A new Skills Minister presents an exciting opportunity for a sector that will be vital to the future of the economy. We are experiencing skills gaps across various industries and an increase in the number of people not in education, employment or training. Focus on a cross-departmental National Skills Strategy, coupled with flexibility within the apprenticeship levy and proper investment into the skills ecosystem, will deliver the opportunity to turbocharge the skills sector to the benefit of learners, employers and the wider economy.

By Nichola Hay MBE, Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy at BPP

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