Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

Collaboration to ‘Close the Gap’ is a matter of priority for leading education charities

Today (26 Sept) sees the launch of a landmark report, ‘Close the Gap’, where NOCN and City and Guilds have worked together on a proposed map for UK Technical & Skills Education that is fit for the future.

As I announce the launch of the report at today’s Skills and Employability Summit, I will be focussed on conveying its core message and purpose, to reskill the UK, closing the gap on our competitors and remaining a world leading force for the 21st century.

Why now?

Why have the two charities chosen to collaborate in this way? The answer to this question is simple - the issues at play are vital.

The country currently faces a significant risk of displaced employment, underemployment, low productivity and rising inequality with negative consequences for the economy, government spending and social cohesion. We need to ‘Close the Gap’ and mitigate the risks of this as a priority.

The nature of work continues to change rapidly. The intense pressure created by unprecedented technology advances is resulting in significant shifts in the skills needed to drive a successful and inclusive economy.

Solving the productivity puzzle

One of the big challenges facing the future prosperity of the UK is the apparent inability to solve the ‘productivity puzzle’ and, hence, remain competitive in business and get people out of poverty, whilst improving pay overall.

Population and demographic changes mean that some will have working lives lasting 50 years or more and many will have several career changes in that period. Social mobility and employment equality are areas where progress remains stubbornly static.

Over the next five to 10 years, there will be major skills gaps in the growing number of professional, scientific and technical jobs (particularly at educational Levels 4 and 5) – the ‘Missing Middle’.

Whilst, there will be a significant over-supply of people with limited skills (no qualifications or only a Level 1) – the ‘Low Skills Bottom’ - we are also seeing an oversupply of mismatched higher Level 6 achievements, due to increased numbers of learners taking the well-respected Higher Education route, Post-18.

This changing shape in the profile of jobs available will negatively impact those who, in many cases, are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. The current overall reduction in operative skill grade apprenticeships (Level 2) is making the problem worse, as the ability to progress up to it beyond Level 3, 4 and 5 has become severely restricted.

The country faces a significant risk of displaced employment, underemployment and rising inequality with negative consequences for the economy, government spending and social cohesion.

Closing the gap

We need to ‘Close the Gap’ and mitigate the risks of this as a priority. If we are to do this, we must raise the skill levels of around three to four million in the UK workforce, as well as increase and better align the skills of young people coming out of the education system.

Robust and reliable learning and skills policies and, more importantly, practices, are the key to economic stability and sustainable, inclusive growth. These policies need underpinning by an all-embracing, efficient and effective technical, vocational education and training (TVET) system to ensure accessible delivery for all.

This needs to be integrated, supplying employers with the workforce needed to drive a successful economy in 2024 and beyond - and develop their existing workforces in ways they may not be able to predict, whilst allowing people to move between academic and technical routes and improve their basic English and maths for fuller societal participation.

Over the last 20 years, we have seen a succession of policy changes with the objective of putting in place such an ecosystem. Unfortunately, we have not been able to achieve it. In fact, alongside drastic cuts in funding and funding rates, we have seen a series of policy initiatives that effectively started again, inevitably ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’.

We recognise that there has been some progress over the last five years, in terms of raised profile for apprenticeships. However, we currently have a wide range of disparate government programmes and reforms in England that do not readily gel together to produce the outcomes needed across the economy and all parts of the country.

3 essential ‘Close the gap’ recommendations

The report highlights a large number of key recommendations, including:

  1. The establishment by government of a single, simple and agile integrated TVET system for all sectors from Level 1 to Level 7, based upon nationally agreed standards and curriculum.
  2. Modularised qualifications and apprenticeships from Level 1 to Level 7, enabling a workforce that can develop the specific skills they and their employer need, rather than having to carry out a long full-time course of study.
  3. Increased investment, including for tutors, assessors and new equipment as well as streamlining of a more flexible and increased Levy

Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

The full report can be downloaded here.

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