Ruth Gilbert

Whenever Government publishes a White Paper, much analysis and discussion invariably follows. This has certainly been the case for the long-awaited Skills for Jobs publication.

This White paper emphatically places core value on putting employers at the heart of skills and curriculum development/delivery. The world is changing quickly and no Government could ignore the growing need for new skills in expanding industries like digital and green technology, with clear guidance on route maps into growing career opportunities, best-led by industry.

The National Curriculum in schools does not, and cannot, cover the vast range of industries and careers on offer, and the Government has clearly recognised the need for career route maps. Industry needs to support educators, with access to modern work environments and the technology used in our global economy.

In addition, the impact of Covid-19 has created an immediate need to strengthen adult skills provision to ensure we can re-deploy talented people and give the economy a fighting chance of recovery. This important point is covered in the White Paper with a ‘flexible lifetime skills’ guarantee, and will need direct industry engagement, for clear upskilling, reskilling and direction to adults seeking employment.

Draw on international practice

We can draw on international practice here, noting regional Hubs established in Finland, Norway, Canada and Australia, to address the obvious impediments for all age groups- the fact that it is not efficient or practical for employers to visit every school, nor is it possible for industry to operate all training during core working hours.

The White Paper provides a clear policy position, requiring action now, with employers, colleges and schools given the support they need to help make this happen. And for this to happen, educators, together with local, regional and national industry and government, must be more open to new ways of doing things, to address rising unemployment, and skills gaps. With 25 years in education, I’ve learnt that we can’t deliver successful outcomes without investing in innovative solutions, taking bold moves to learn from the international community – with their active partnerships with industry.

Culturally in the UK, we have some suspicion or negative connotations associated with industry engagement in public services, such as PFI or documentary coverage of a minority of alleged inscrutable private training providers. However, industry investment and direct engagement in careers education, building infrastructure, technology and community resources is logical, without any baggage, isn’t it?

The importance of personalised IAG

The Careers Guidance section of our new White Paper affirms the national imperative to address pandemic accelerating youth unemployment, high-quality careers information, advice and guidance. It also places emphasis on all-age informed choices. It builds on the foundations laid by the Government’s 2017 Careers Strategy - setting out the importance of personalised IAG, requiring more accountability for schools and colleges when it comes to the careers guidance they offer and completion of a national rollout of careers infrastructure.

Ensuring young people and indeed adults know about the career opportunities and pathways available to them, has to come before anything else. It is no good having fantastic technical skills provision and widening of educational choice if the very people who should be taking advantage of these new options are unaware of the possibilities on offer to them.

How are low carbon energy companies going to recruit? How will candidates find out about the 200+ healthcare careers, and the route map to them? How will Institutes of Technology and T levels attract students, without impartial, regional and national programmes that are not driven by individual education institutions, which have to promote what they each offer?

Education providers have a statutory duty to provide careers education, but schools and colleges alone cannot offer direct insight into careers and workplaces in the same way that employers can. We therefore need new, innovative solutions to help address this.

Manor Property Group has committed to a £1billion investment to establish and fund 160 ground-breaking centres (Qdos Career Hubs) which will provide modern work environments to deliver impartial careers education and employer brokerage to nearly five million young people and adults nationwide. Manor is breaking the ‘chicken and egg’ – appreciating it is impossible to evidence success and prove a concept when you are being prevented or don’t have the resource to put that concept into practice.

By engaging with regional authorities and employers, Qdos Career Hubs are demand-led in each region, ensuring that services match the requirements of a local economy in the same way that the Government wants skills provision to be delivered. By building on what is already in place, these Hubs will provide the physical infrastructure and technology needed to bring career opportunities to life.

Widening choice in education

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) rightly sets out that ‘great weight’ should be given to widening choice in education. This is particularly relevant now, with the enormous imperative to help people up/reskill in the aftermath of Covid-19 - but will require ‘bringing to life’ the modern working world, which cannot be done in a school or college.

Successfully realising the many positive policies within the Skills for Jobs White Paper requires genuine innovation. It needs investment and expertise from both the public AND private sectors, with education and planning teams working much more closely to understand need.

With the difficult economic landscape we find ourselves in, employers, educators, councils and every other stakeholder must come together right now, look outside the box and expedite the many innovative solutions – like Qdos Career Hubs - that are possible to support and improve our much-needed skills provision.

Putting employers at the heart of the White Paper is the right thing to do – but industry involvement cannot be limited to just curriculum development if we are to put this much-needed policy into GENUINE practice.

With firm plans in place for the opening of Qdos Career Hubs across the country – starting with East Riding of Yorkshire, Rotherham and the West Midlands – Manor is providing an accelerated international blueprint for required action. This approach is gathering traction, with interest expressed by regional authorities in Cambridgeshire, Southampton, Durham, Liverpool and Dorset in the last month alone.

With national government support, more regions can benefit from this approach- capitalising on industry expertise, for the benefit of our communities, resourcing and supporting educators to meet their legislative duties to provide informed choices through careers education.

By Ruth Gilbert, Group Education Director, Manor Property Group, Honorary Fellow, UCL Institute of Education

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