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Boost demand for higher technical education in order to address ‘missing middle’ in skills system and drive productivity after pandemic

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 New @LearnWorkUK report commissioned by @GatsbyEd: Boost demand for higher technical education in order to address ‘missing middle’ in skills system and drive productivity after pandemic 

Boosting demand for higher technical education after the pandemic will be vital to driving productivity and supporting social mobility, according to a new report.

The research – published by leading employment and skills think tank Learning and Work Institute – explores how a higher technical education offer with a focus on industry-specific skills, could help to address the needs of local people, local businesses and the local economy. 

Compared with its international competitors, the UK has a relatively low proportion of the workforce with higher technical skills and qualifications. This ‘missing middle’ creates challenges for employers looking to fill their skills gaps, boost productivity and grow their business. Similarly, the lack of higher level technical and vocational provision, limits opportunities for progression, hampering social mobility for those people who do not opt for a university degree. 

The ‘Skills for jobs’ White Paper, published in January 2021, committed to stimulate higher technical education and put employers at the heart of the system. L&W’s new report, commissioned by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, shows how the ambitions for a stronger higher technical education offer can be delivered at a local level, through building a market for higher technical education. 

The researchers worked with providers, employers and local stakeholders in two local areas, to explore the barriers to boosting demand for and provision of higher technical education. This focused on the digital sector in the West Midlands Combined Authority area, and the advanced manufacturing in the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership area. 

The report highlights the need for effective engagement of employers and the development of provision shaped by employers’ needs, with providers bringing together employers into clusters, identifying common skills needs, and exploring how higher technical education can unlock future growth. The report also highlights the need to develop the provider workforce through both continuing professional development for teaching staff, and attracting new staff with recent industry expertise. 

In addition to setting out how to develop the market for higher technical education at a local level, the report provides recommendations for government in the wake of the white paper to boost demand for higher technical education and fill the ‘missing middle’. 

Dr Fiona Aldridge, director for policy and research at Learning and Work Institute, said:

“The Skills for Jobs White Paper makes a welcome commitment to investing in higher-level technical education that better meets the skills needs of local business and economies, and provides pathways into rewarding and fulfilling careers.

“Our report shows that while good practice exists, further efforts are needed to improve and increase our higher technical offer. The government has committed to introducing pilots to stimulate and incentivise provision, and our report offers a blueprint for how this can be achieved.”

Ginny Page, director of education programmes at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation said:

“We welcome today’s report by L&W into this important and complex area of education. The government has laid out its vision for higher technical education, and today’s report provides greater insights into how market failures at local levels occur, and makes concrete recommendations for how to address these. 

“There are no quick fixes when starting from such a low base. The report highlights how building effective, lasting collaboration is key, and shows what opportunities can then be created to raise skill levels and improve job prospects in local communities. We thank all those who took part in the research during a very challenging time.” 

Clare Hatton, head of skills delivery at West Midlands Combined Authority, said:

“The growing policy focus on Higher Technical Education is welcomed and chimes with our regional ambitions to develop the higher level skills offer. National policy provides a framework to develop local provision and when combined with local ambition and powerful partnerships can be a driver for change. 

“It is vitally important however that alongside developing the education offer that both regionally and nationally we make sure that these learners can access first class opportunities across a range of sectors by engaging employers in the reform process. It is through this combination of activities that we can seek to address this long-standing challenge. With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, automation of jobs and the pace of technological change it is needed now more than ever.” 

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