From education to employment

Skills devolution: Untapped Potential

Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group
The devolution of powers over employment and skills policy is hugely consequential for the future of the British economy. Devolution presents huge opportunities for English regions to reshape employment and skills provision in a way that meets the needs of local populations.
The devolved agenda enjoys broad support both inside and outside the FE sector, but its full potential has yet to be realised. Transferring power away from central Government towards local regions is never going to be easy, but part of the issue resides in the fact that existing proposals have not gone far enough.
Back in May, we published a research paper (Devolving Skills: Implications and Opportunities) considering some of the challenges that local areas face in taking on increased powers over skills and employment policy. We identified a broad range of issues present in many regions, these included lack of vision and strategy, unclear ownership and accountabilities, and inappropriate or ineffectual governance structures. These are all crucial issues and necessary to get right. To date, the scope of devolution deals have been limited and progress has been slow. The adult skills budget was due to be devolved to Greater Manchester from 2018-19, but the combined authority now expects this to be devolved a year later. Principally, devolution deals have focused on the adult skills budget—in the new post-Sainsbury landscape there is scope to be more ambitious.
Now more than ever, given the wider changes to Technical and Professional education (TPE) and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, there are great opportunities to embrace a devolved skills framework. When it comes to reforms to TPE, government has been clear that it wants to ensure industry is placed firmly in the driving seat. A devolved framework would better promote this by providing a mechanism for increased system wide collaboration as local enterprise partnerships, councils, colleges and other training providers work together in planning for and anticipating future skills needs. Devolution has the potential to create a holistic skills model that can provide agile and responsive training provision that fills technical gaps in key industries whilst working to support a range of productive economic activity. 
Following the election of new metro-mayors in May 2017, the political foundations have been laid for further powers, such as control over 16-18 funding, to be transferred to local regions. A big challenge facing regional devolution deals has been the lack of political ownership to drive the skills element forward.  Now, the new system of metro-mayors offers the possibility for a complete step-change in how accountability of further devolution to English regions can be secured.
Given the direction of travel there is a greater need than ever to ensure the full potential of skills devolution is realised to allow local actors to capitalise on the opportunity contained within this new TPE landscape.
Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group

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