Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

5 Measures of Success for Radical #Vocational Reform

NOCN, one of the UK’s largest awarding and assessment organisations, has partnered with global skills development leader, City and Guilds (C&G), to press the government for a single national learning vision and strategy for young people and adults.

The unprecedented unified call is a key recommendation of the co-authored landmark report, Close the Gap – Proposing a map for UK Technical & Skills Education to 2024 and beyond, which sets a powerful example of cooperation to the education sector.

Specifically, we want to see the establishment by government of a straightforward, universal and agile integrated technical, vocational education and training (TVET) system for all sectors from educational Level 1 to Level 7, based upon nationally agreed standards and curriculums.

The aim is simple: to ensure accessible delivery for all citizens - throughout their careers.

Simple it may be, but it is the scheme’s crucial importance that has forged the union between C&G and ourselves.

TVET central to addressing the UK’s chronic productivity gap

For it is our belief that that an effective TVET is central to addressing decisively the UK’s chronic productivity gap in the face of unprecedented global competitiveness and technological advances.

We forecast that, over the next five to ten years, this persistent problem will worsen, with a shortage of available qualified personnel for the growing number of professional, scientific and technical jobs that a vibrant, dynamic economy needs. At the same time, there will be too many people with few or no skills and qualifications.

It all adds up to a sharply declining national competitiveness as high-level roles go unfilled and vast numbers of British people lead unfulfilled lives, subsisting in poverty. As well as being economically ruinous, this will be socially corrosive as community cohesion breaks down, health and wellbeing declines and crime rates soar.

Meanwhile, more forward-thinking rival nations with skilled-up labour pools will steam ahead.

Fragmentation of the UK skills landscape

We recognise that reforms have been introduced to remedy the situation in recent years - and that improvements have been achieved - but they differ markedly across Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.

This risks profound fragmentation of the UK skills landscape and will be detrimental to the overall economy and workforce.

In floating the establishment of a single integrated and economy-led TVET scheme, though, we are not recommending starting again – quite the opposite, in fact. We propose building on progress to date, adding to it and refining what we have, to create a complete, uniform skills ecosystem for the UK.

This will bring together all separate current reforms into an integrated, coherent, solitary regulated TVET system from Entry Level to Level 7, which complements and links with the academic route. The scheme will serve the economy, employers, young people, adults and society as a whole and provide the basis for delivering the government’s ambitions as set out in its ’International Education Strategy’.

It would, of course, include training and apprenticeship progression pathways. Here, we would expect most people to only go through one full apprenticeship in their working lives, with other, further skill developments achieved through following, ongoing training and learning.

Accommodating both lateral and upward career shifts

Measures must be taken to make the TVET system stable for decades and ‘owned’ by employers, employees and their representatives, as well as the providers who will help deliver it. This would complement the academic route up to Level 7/8, where we have had a continuity of ‘brand name’ for decades.

The TVET skills system must allow for relevant rungs on a progression ladder that are appropriate for each industry sector and not a broad brush centralised and overly simplistic approach for all. It should also be mindful of pathways that require both lateral and upwards movement as we seek to accommodate young learners and those making significant career shifts later in their working lives.

Such is the nature of demand that employers and employees will face, it is imperative that we have a structure that is adaptable and flexible enough to respond quickly to fast-changing requirements and circumstances quickly.

And with this in mind, we should not forget that all this is set in the context of the UK having some nine million workers who have inadequate literacy, numeracy and digital skills. There is then, a clear ‘legacy’ challenge for adults in employment wanting to advance or enter new sectors.

When developing policy, we cannot be driven by the rate at which it is possible to improve the capabilities and productivity of the workforce by just improving the skills of young people and other learners coming out of schools and FE colleges. In parallel we must invest in skill development for the existing workforce.

This makes it imperative that the proposed single TVET system is managed by a single organisation, ensuring regulation and quality delivery of qualifications, assessments and apprenticeships. Our suggestion is that the government utilises and adapts the investment put into the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

So, what would the measures of success be for such a radical reform?

1. Industry focused training

A refreshed but stable and integrated ‘industry focused’ training and vocational education regime for young people and adults at all levels, in all localities, which is sustainable and easily updated to match continual job role changes and technological advances in the various sectors of the UK economy.

2. Better matched workforce

A continuous cycle of improvements (qualifications and apprenticeships) so that the flow of new entrants coming out of schools and FE colleges into the workforce better match the required profile of skills likely to be needed in the labour market of the near future.

This would mean:

  • A set of TVET qualifications and apprenticeships with robust assessments in place, which will prepare young people to be productive in a digital/AI rich world. These must recognise the different demands of the various industry sectors in the economy;
  • A reduction in the numbers of young people leaving the compulsory education system with a Level 1 or no qualification, then not offered progress options into a Level 2 apprenticeship/ qualification and beyond, and
  • A hike in the numbers of young people leaving the education system with a good Level 3 TVET qualification and progressing to a Level 4 or 5 job or apprenticeship or further qualification target

3. More agile skills

Regeneration of current systems for upskilling and reskilling adults to bring into being the skills projected to be needed by five years hence and beyond, as well as being agile enough to cope with constant technological change.

This would mean:

  • A set of shorter TVET qualifications/credentialed learning and relevant adult apprenticeships with robust assessments in place which will upskill adults to be productive in tech sectors. Again, these must respond to the different demands of the economy’s many sectors
  • A reduction in the numbers of people in the existing workforce with low skills (in educational terms either no qualification or just a Level 1) and a dedicated campaign to give them a route out of this ‘trap’
  • A significant improvement in English, Maths, digital and more general employability skills (work readiness) across the whole workforce
  • An increase in the number of employed people with Level 4 or 5 skills with appropriate accreditation options in order to fill the increased number of associate, professional, scientific and technical jobs expected by 2024, and
  • Increased managerial skills across all industry areas to help drive productivity improvements and face the complex challenges of automation, digital and AI;

4. Social justice

Demonstrable improvements in social mobility and justice for all parts of our society and regions

5. Single point of accountability

The creation of a long-term, single accountable organisation to design, implement and operate the new ‘industry focused’ system for young people and adults. This organisation would be held to account from a government investment perspective and employer focus point of view.

Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

You can read the full report here.

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