From education to employment

We will create a simpler and better skills training system that works for everyone

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

Jennifer Coupland talks about IfATE’s plans, set out in their new Simpler Skills System report, to take employer-led skills training to the next level so it engages with the disengaged and supports businesses and people from all backgrounds to maximise their potential.

Our country faces big challenges. A simpler, world-class skills training system can and will do a lot to help solve them.

The cost-of-living crisis is still making life tough for working people, and the public and private sectors are finding it hard to source the right skills to recover and thrive.

AI is evolving quicker than the government can write white papers about it… and we need a workforce ready to capitalise on green technologies in the global transition to net zero.

It’s all putting a premium on businesses nurturing and growing their own talent.

We need a superb skills system

They need a superb skills system to do that and we have made great strides towards achieving this through a decade of employer-led reforms.

Engaged businesses now agree that the quality of apprenticeships and technical education is better than ever before – because employers shape it to match their skills needs. This, in turn, benefits learners who can feel confident they are learning what businesses really need and value.

But the challenge is with the disengaged. Most employers still don’t employ apprentices or trust and use wider skills training to fill their skills gaps. Many businesses and learners also still find it too difficult to find and sign up for the right courses.

IfATE’s new Simpler Skills System report sets out how we plan to build from the quality gains so far to make sure everyone sees the benefits.

The Big Conversation

The background to all this is the Big Conversation we ran last year with over 2,000 employers and skills users.

The idea was to get a better understanding of the barriers faced in accessing skills training, and how we could encourage the step change in productivity and social mobility that we all know apprenticeships and technical qualifications could achieve.

Respondents told us loud and clear that the skills system is still too complex. And too many disengaged businesses remain unconvinced that what’s on offer is universally high quality.

Our plan addresses all that. At its heart is our commitment to maintain a stable base of employer-made standards, informed by big data, employer intelligence and local conditions. This means upholding quality to foster long-term public confidence, streamlining what’s on offer and how employers shape that, and making sure that flexible training can be developed rapidly to meet fast-changing needs.

Our occupational maps must also form the basis of simpler and better skills guidance across schools, colleges and everyone else involved with helping people make the right choices. These maps have been updated so they’re easy to use on mobile phones and tablets and now provide up to date workforce and career-planning information, including salaries and green jobs. The data and digital architecture is freely available for partners including UCAS to use, so wherever users get their information, it should be up to date, consistent, and easy to engage with.

IfATE has further committed to capitalising on our oversight role, so we unite with partners across the system to ensure coherence, strengthen quality, and improve outcomes.

And we know that when businesses are aware that apprenticeships and technical qualifications were created by employers, they have more confidence and are more likely to participate in the skills system. 90% believe that employer involvement leads to more valuable qualifications for the workforce.

Employers are at the heart of technical education

That’s why we have committed, through the report, to making it much clearer that employers are at the heart of technical education. This will help raise awareness, participation, and flip skills from being viewed by too many as an unwanted cost to a valued investment that enhances performance and businesses can be proud of.

All the resulting training needs to work for young people starting their careers; experienced adults up-skilling, re-skilling & progressing their careers, and large and small employers to have future-ready skilled work at all their different required skills levels.

We have come a long way

We have come a long way with improving and simplifying the system already.

We’re fast moving to a point where all government-backed training will follow the same employer-defined standards, providing continuity and universal quality guarantee.

The old-style apprenticeship frameworks, which businesses had too little involvement with shaping, focused on training people for a small number of low skilled jobs and offered very little opportunity to progress up the skills levels. Degree apprenticeships didn’t even exist.

The proportion of people starting on the wide array of employer-designed apprenticeships that replaced them are now around 30% for level 2, 40% for level 3, and 30% for level 4 up to degree level. That’s a much better reflection of the economy’s true skills needs, providing many more opportunities for people from all backgrounds to rise through the ranks and maximise their potential.

The Sainsbury Review

The Sainsbury Review in 2017 cleared the way for IfATE to build from the apprenticeship reforms and support employers to shape virtually all other government-backed training. The 2021 Skills for Jobs White Paper deepened the role of employers further.

As a result, apprenticeships, T Levels, Higher Technical Qualifications, and shorter courses like bootcamps now all share that common foundation of employer-set standards.There’s still work to do with simplifying the huge variety of other skills qualifications out there. There are thousands to choose between and while many are very good… it’s too difficult for businesses and learners to figure out what would work for them. IfATE’s new employer-led approvals system for levels 2 and 3 will change that for the better.

We’re also making great strides with supporting the green agenda. IfATE launched our Climate Change and Environment Skills Strategy in January and our Green Advisory Panel has highlighted over 100 apprenticeships that support green careers, including sustainability business specialist, ecologist, and countryside ranger.

And we are committed to driving up participation and opportunity for people from all backgrounds to succeed and progress up that ladder of opportunity. IfATE’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit is showing the way for employers to improve the representation and therefore performance of their workforce.

Genuine system reform is a long term effort

Genuine system reform is a long-term effort, requiring sustained action towards a shared goal.  We must never lose heart because it takes time, or get knocked off course by short-term delivery challenges.

A high-quality, world-class skills system, which delivers improved productivity, growth and opportunity, is in our sights. We now have now approved more than 670 apprenticeships, over 100 higher technical qualifications and 18 T Levels. There are currently more than 630,000 apprentices learning and working with businesses of all shapes and sizes across the country and around 15,000 T Level students.

Employers, education providers and government all have our roles to play in taking things to the next level and engaging with the disengaged.

Our report takes the best from all that has gone before and looks towards a fantastic future. It shows how we will keep moving forward to a point where apprenticeships and technical qualifications drive innovation, prosperity and success for everyone.

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

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