The Skills Commission Inquiry, co-chaired by former Skills Minister John Hayes MP and Barry Sheerman MP, has been jointly launched by Policy Connect and the Learning and Work Institute.

The inquiry aims to make recommendations to develop a strategic vision for our skills system to deliver the labour market requirements for Industry 4.0. As part of building the evidence base nationally it was a pleasure to host the Skills Commission Inquiry at Boston College’s Spalding campus, and fantastic to see such strong regional representation from our key stakeholders to offer their valuable insights.

Growing attention is being paid nationally to the significant challenges facing our skills system, including the Apprenticeship levy funding issues, migration challenges associated with Brexit, demographic changes and social inequalities. However, regional issues are often missing in national inquires, or only form part of the overall contextual picture, which can mask the challenges faced. Therefore, including Greater Lincolnshire as one of the areas outside of London, enabled different providers operating across a large and rural county to offer insights into challenges faced in the skills system.

Across Greater Lincolnshire there are outstanding examples of high quality education and training to develop skills across a range of provision, however our regional dispersed geography can present a range of challenges that the current skills system does not account for and results in barriers to collaboration and growth. Nomis data (ONS, 2018) evidences that 99.7% of business enterprises in Greater Lincolnshire are SME’s, with 98% of these businesses employing less than 50 staff. The result is significantly less Apprenticeship levy paying employers, large travel-to-learn and assessment patterns which add significantly to delivery costs and economic viability, as well as challenges with non-levy funding availability. In addition, the new Industry placements take significantly longer to achieve the mandatory hours requirement, across a near 1:1 business ratio average, due to travel times and supervisory requirements for small businesses. Small businesses also have varying requirements for skilled labour that need flexible methods of delivery and content creation to meet their needs.

Ensuring a joined up approach to lifelong skills development requires an interconnected system of engagement. Locally there are good examples of effective relationships with the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, local authorities and employers, which have resulted in careers fairs, school engagement and innovative approaches to raising careers aspirations through supporting young people and their careers advisors to visit our local employers. Regionally we have secured a pre-contract award for an Institute of Technology, delivered a Career Learning Pilot and Strategic College Improvement funds have been used between two colleges. However, balancing collaboration and competition in the current funding climate, with a real focus on quality improvement regionally, has been challenging for every type of provider. Fostering a culture of social value and mobility requires a national shift in funding and an ecosystem, which reflects the different geographical areas of work and employment.

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The call for evidence for the Skills Commission Inquiry is currently live and open for your views if you wish to contribute. Further education changes lives across all types of provision so the more regional areas contribute the greater evidence base we have to improve such a crucial area of policy.

Jo Maher, Principal and Chief Executive, Boston College

A Youth Commissioner for the Learning and Work Institute, and the lead psychologist for WorldSkills Team UK.   Prior to taking up her position at Boston College, Jo was Assistant Principal at Reaseheath College, after spending 9 years working through from sessional lecturing to Head of Department at Loughborough College.  Jo is also a qualified teacher and internationally published academic.

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