Changes to the UK’s education system come at a time when post-Brexit we need a renewed focus on developing home-grown skills. In the past year, we have seen the introduction of Trailblazer Apprenticeships, proposals for the implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy and wider reforms to create 15 new technical routes for school leavers. The restructure of education and training serves to address a nation-wide issue of low productivity and ongoing skills shortages. The policies we are seeing emerge from the government are a reassuring move toward reinvigorating the development of higher level and technical skills through work-based learning routes.  These vocational routes for far too long have been given far less attention than traditional university education.  

The education system has typically catered for the academically-able pupils pushing them to follow a ‘natural’ course to university education. Unsurprisingly, a one-size fits all approach has left a large proportion of young people feeling disenfranchised by this system. We still have 865,000 16-24 year-olds, or 12% of all young people, classified as Not in Education, Employment or Training.  And CMI’s latest report with the EY Foundation, “An Age of Uncertainty”, covering young people’s views on the challenges of getting into work in 21st century Britain, showed how over a third of young people lack confidence in getting a job, and how employers and educators need to work together much better.

It was clear that many young people are just not being offered suitable work experience or vocational routes to equip them with the relevant skills and training.  Training in management and leadership is often overlooked, with a mere one in five managers currently qualified in the area. Entering the workforce is daunting enough, take that alongside the poor knowledge of the world of work, a lack of work experience and practical skills, and poor careers information and advice, and it’s a pretty rough ride for young people.

The lack of belief in reputable vocational training routes and poor collaboration between education providers and employers has contributed to a ‘skills poverty’ across a number of industries. When it comes to recruitment, a shocking 87% of employers have reported difficultly sourcing candidates with the desired skills. Matching training to employer needs is fundamental to upskilling the workforce and boosting productivity. With pressures increasing in the post-Brexit vote climate, it has never been more crucial for education providers and employers to work together to close the productivity and skills gap. And it starts with education.

The new Trailblazer Apprenticeships offer employers of all sizes the opportunity to shape the training and courses to meet their business’ needs. In 2015, CMI helped to launch the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) alongside a group of employers and HE institutions to bring together higher education and professional chartered status, delivered through work-based experience and learning. Degree level courses are being offered alongside Level 3 and 5 apprenticeships to accommodate school leavers and existing employees at varying levels.

Ahead of the proposed Apprenticeship Levy, many employers are now starting to consider where they can best invest in their talent. Despite concerns voiced by a number of employers over the cost, the longer-term benefits outweigh the pay-out.  Just taking the added-value that Chartered Managers offer their organisations, on average over £391k, the return on investment is clear.  Acting fast and thinking smart will allow employers to maximise their funding and pool of resources. The Apprenticeship Levy should be viewed more as investment credit, and can be used to invest in professional training for school leavers as well as upskilling existing employees and leaders. Central to the success of new schemes is the collaboration between employers and education providers.

Published in July, the government’s ‘Post-16 Skills Plan’ sets out the case for the reform of the skills system to provide individuals with vocational and technical education pathways. The engagement between employers and education providers is vital to hitting the mark. Failing to educate school leavers on the options available to them and not fully preparing them for the world of work is letting down our young people. The transition between education and work is still far too disjointed and this needs to change. The new plan aims to bring together FE institutions and employers to deliver high quality apprenticeships and ensure informed advice is communicated.

The opportunity for education providers is clear.  Providers need to be able to deliver a work-ready generation of school leavers. Through the apprenticeship routes, increased funding will go into supporting young people and adults alike to provide training to individuals at all stages in their professional career. Learning doesn’t stop at any age and constantly updating skills and knowledge is crucial to keeping up with the rapidly changing world.

While much work remains to be done, the prospects for young people are looking up. We have a nation of talented and aspiring young people waiting to unlock their potential. All they need is the key.  New apprenticeship routes, including the CMDA, will help to open the door to fulfilling careers and offer a new way of developing the skilled and highly productive workforce the UK needs.

Read CMI’s full Skills First Report here

Petra Wilton, CMI


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