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Lifetime Skills Guarantee – Is a single Level 3 is enough for the most vulnerable?

Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies
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In a speech today (29 Sept) Prime Minister @BorisJohnson set out his plans for a “Lifetime Skills Guarantee” to the transform the training and skills system and prepare workers for a post-Covid economy, making it fit for the 21st century economy, and helping the country build back better.

Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course – providing them with skills valued by employers, and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them.

Responding, Becci Newton, Deputy Director, Public Policy ResearchInstitute for Employment Studies, said:

“A skills based response in this recession is something I strongly support and using / extending the existing policy framework to provide training options for those with low skills is incredibly important. There are some questions about whether a single Level 3 is enough for the most vulnerable – as people and employers need a rounded set of skills.

“A substantial Level 3 programme is likely to be most supportive of needs on both sides however, to reach a judgement we need to understand the qualifications that will be funded and how these add value. There is a risk here given the restructuring of vocational qualifications in recent years. There is also a question about the funding level and whether it will be enough to attract people to training.

“And people who have already been working may prefer some shorter schemes that support sector-transfer such as sector-based work academies or at least a system that accredits their prior learning and experiential learning rather than taking them back to the start. The 13 week provision is welcome, but branding it a bootcamp could be unhelpful. We have some existing models from the national retraining scheme that we should consider.”


#Post16RevolutionaryReforms – Assisting 16-24 Year Olds without a Level 3

Given the impacts of Covid-19 on young people, their education, and employment, the post-16 white paper has some heavy lifting to do.

It was to presage the development of new technical Level 4 and 5 qualifications.

However, it now feels urgent that it drives forward a skills-centred recovery and supports preventative measures against youth scarring.

It is time to be ambitious: investment in skills can be returned through improved productivity and importantly, a healthier, more inclusive society

Rising Participation by 16-18 Year olds

We are seeing continued high participation as young people make the post-16 transition. The latest estimates show that 16-18 participation is at a record high (81.6%).

Supporting this is the funding arrangement: up to the age of 19, education and training costs are fully-funded and households can continue to receive child benefit and universal credit for 16-19 year olds in full-time further education.

Too Many 19 Year Olds do not have a Level 3 or a Level 2

However, we also need this funding to result in improved levels of attainment. In 2019, only 59.7% of young people attained Level 3 by 19, and while by the same age, 83.4% had achieved Level 2 – the level expected following compulsory schooling – this means some 16.6% still had not.

While achievement of GCSE maths and English has risen by age 19, many young people leave the 16-19 phase with low skills.

Too Few Gain Level 3 or Level 2 by age 25

Between age 19 and 25, the proportion with at least a Level 3 rises from 60% to 66% and the proportion with at least a Level 2 rises from 83% to 89%.

This means a third of 25 year olds do not have a Level 3 and more than a tenth do not have a Level 2.

The Needs of NEETs

The needs of those who get lost in transition also require consideration; being NEET at 16, with low qualifications, increases risks of being NEET at 17 and of becoming long- term unemployed/inactive from 18.

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However, it can take time for young people to realise that their low qualifications are a drag on obtaining good quality employment.

Plan for Jobs

Skills are emphasised within the employment policy response to the Covid-19 recession. Under the Plan for Jobs, the government is offering financial incentives to employers to create apprenticeships (£2,000), traineeships (£1,000) and six-month Kickstart jobs (no qualification component; average £6,500 per job).

Young people aged 18-19 can continue in full-time learning for an extra year. But whether employer incentives will be sufficient to drive forward on the longstanding skills agenda remains in question. Employers have supported less off-the-job and more short-duration training over many years, and the jobs they offer young people have become increasingly precarious.

The £2,000 incentive for apprenticeships sits alongside low expectations for employers’ contribution to training costs, minimum wage rates and incentives to recruit younger age groups and those with higher needs. These have not halted the declining trend in apprenticeship vacancies for the young. We need a mechanism to influence employer behaviour; to help them to offer good quality jobs that progress young people’s skills.

More Support for Young People in the Post-16 White Paper

We need, however, more support and funding, financial support and improvements to guidance and provision can improve outcomes for low-skilled young people during the transition to full labour market participation and before outcomes become fixed.

In 2020, making full-time further education a more attractive option to vulnerable groups by providing targeted financial support alongside courses with a clear relationship to the labour market provides a way forward

The skills funding framework has a measure to support full-time learning for low- skilled young people who may not get the apprenticeships that are created. It must also be noted that these training options are not suitable for some young parents and carers, who need to work part-time, or to cover care costs. Up to the age of 23, full funding for a first Level 3 qualification is available.

Nevertheless, whether 18-19 or older, the ability to continue in full-time education is contingent upon household finances. If young people are claiming benefits (which could amount to £200 per week) these would be at risk if they enter full-time education.

Full-Time Learning v Labour Market Participation

Thinking about the arguments for and against full-time further education rather  than labour market participation, while active labour market programme evidence demonstrates full-time learning can create lock-in effects, for vulnerable groups, there is a case for supporting it. If such full-time education provision encompasses substantial work-related learning, negative effects can be countered.

The national-level economic and social returns that would be achieved from qualifying to a higher level provide the rationale for an education maintenance support package, alongside ensuring young people can access high-quality vocational/technical provision with value in the labour market.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the post-16 white paper should announce the introduction of an FE learner maintenance scheme targeted at vulnerable groups aged 16-24 to enable participation in full-time education, traineeships and apprenticeships.
  2. Second, the white paper should introduce an employer brokerage system to enable employers to access advice to select the best of the ‘Plan for Jobs’ youth options for their business which also maximises training opportunities for young people.
  3. And third, the white paper should announce the type of Level 3 and below qualifications eligible for public funding, with a suite of high-quality technical/vocational qualifications at Level 2 and Level 3 suitable for young adults (19-24), with flexibility for movement between training modes and full and part-time study.

Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies

‘Revolutionary Forces’

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, “Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper“, takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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