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Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills)

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Text of keynote speech by @GillianKeegan, #Apprenticeships and #Skills Minister to the #BCSSkillsFest @BCS Virtual Skills Festival:

Good morning and thank you for inviting me here today to speak with you all about how we make the economic road ahead a bustling, positive and exciting one to travel.

This year, 2020, has been one that will be remembered for covid-19.

And rightly so: it has had a devastating impact on everyone in our country that we must never forget.

It has been a dreadful time for many families, we have seen a destructive impact on businesses, and employment and training prospects have been damaged.

But I remain confident in our ability to build back better from this pandemic.


This confidence is not naivety.

It is based on what I have seen in recent months, on the hard work of businesses, universities, and colleges… On the incredible talent we have in this country.

This may seem misplaced to some gathered today. You will be all too aware of our skills shortages, that we have businesses crying out for skilled workers to join them.

These shortages are holding back economic growth and productivity in so-called normal times and will without a doubt hamper our ability to bounce back from covid-19.


Plainly put: This pandemic has accelerated the need for our technical education system to create a pipeline of skilled productive workers who can support the future needs of the economy.

That is why this Government had already set out an ambitious skills agenda, because we recognised that technical education was going to be the rocket fuel we need to propel our economy even prior to covid-19.

We recognised that we need to open up, celebrate and champion technical education.

We know that there is as much value in studying computer science as there in studying classics.

And we know it to be true that academic and technical education are simply different routes to the achieving a well-paid, rewarding career.

As someone who left school in Liverpool in the 1980s - with youth unemployment rates reaching over 17%, and options for young people lacking - I know the value of opening these different routes.

T-Levels & IoTs

The question, then, is how we get more people to take this route?

Our T Levels are part of the answer.

These new qualifications are developed hand-in-glove with more than 250 businesses and organisations - including BCS - and provide high quality technical and on-the-job training.

They give learners the exact skills that employers need. They are a vital part in plugging the skills gap. And they are imperative in our efforts to level up the country.

I also believe that Digital skills are critical to almost every business, whether in the technology sector or not.

So I’m especially excited about the three digital T levels – one of which started in September and the other two will start next year.

On my visits – both real and virtual - to T Level providers since September, I’ve spent time with Digital Design and Development students in Derby, Chichester, Walsall and Norwich. I’ve heard about how these digital skills are setting them up for their dream jobs in sectors and even tried out some VR equipment.

I've been blown away by the students' enthusiasm for what the T Level offers and how it will help them get ahead in their careers.

Later this year, our White Paper will go further in setting out a plan to make sure people across the country can get high-quality, employer-demanded skills, boosting the UK’s productivity and allowing us to compete with the best internationally.

Something I am also particularly proud of is launching of Institutes of Technology - which bring together providers, universities, and employers to deliver higher technical education and training in key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing, and engineering.


These both complement our drive to increase high-quality apprenticeships. Since 2010, we have seen 4 million more apprenticeships, but we cannot stop there.

I was lucky enough to be an apprentice myself, in Liverpool, at a subsidiary of General Motors. I could not speak more highly of it and I know that my friends would have jumped at the opportunity I was given.

In no way do I consider it to be a secondary route. Far from it. It provides flexible, practical training that leads directly to the jobs that our country needs.

We know that many businesses feel uncertain at this time about taking on apprentices. That is why we are providing more funding to smaller enterprises taking apprentices on and providing more flexibility in how they structure their training.


Of course, we have needed to speed up our revolution of technical education due to covid-19.

As the Prime Minister announced, we are introducing a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to do this.

It offers adults without an A Level or equivalent qualification a fully funded level 3 qualification, which will give them the skills needed to succeed in the labour market. It means more training and upskilling no matter what age you are, and will be funded through our new National Skills Fund

This is a key part of our ambitious skills agenda, a vital component of our goal to make the UK’s skills system world-beating.

They are vital if the UK is to achieve some of its bold plans, such as bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 or improving the country’s infrastructure through major projects like HS2.

If our country is to achieve success in these large-scale projects then we need an FE system that is fit for purpose and ensures our workforces have a rich supply of highly skilled workers.

It will help our economy not just in 2021, but far beyond. It is a long-term strategy, a hefty investment, and I am sure it will pay off.


Yes, this is about the economy. But what good is the economy if it does not work for the people who make our country what it is?

That is why at the centre of this is opening up opportunities to get rewarding, high-paid jobs that they enjoy.

For some people, even with our support, they will find training difficult as they juggle other commitments.

This is my second job. I was in business for 30 years. I know the decision to move onto something new can be daunting.

I also know that people do not plan for their first job, instead going through the doors that are immediately open to them.

My ambition is to reset this, giving people the ability to choose what they do in life.

So, let’s make it easier.

Let’s transform the funding system so that people can get a loan just as easily for a higher technical course as they can for a university degree, and make sure that further education colleges have access to funding on the same terms as universities do.

Let’s let people call on a flexible lifelong loan entitlement for four years of post-18 education — to make it easier for people to study more flexibly over their lifetime so adults who want or need to retrain with high level technical courses, can borrow to do so, instead of being trapped in unrewarding, unenjoyable work.

And let businesses, colleges and us in Government keep working together to deliver regular study alongside work, allowing learners to develop cutting edge skills in fast-moving industries, rather than in isolation through a three-year degree.

We’ve developed our policies in the round to achieve our ambitions of a highly skilled nation, which I know you share. We’re investing in the National Careers Service to provide high-quality personalised advice and guidance to more young people and adults.

This is complimented by our £2.5 billion investment for the National Skills Fund to help adults learn valuable skills and prepare for the economy of the future.

It builds on initiatives already available, like The Skills Toolkit, an online platform providing free digital and numeracy courses to help individuals learn the skills that are most sought after by employers, so they can progress in work and boost their job prospects.


We are putting this front and centre of our recovery because our recovery depends on it.

Because just as skills shortages have been destructive, our response must be disruptive.

We have to disrupt the way we think about technical education.

We need to disrupt how we deliver this education.

And we must do this urgently. I look forward to working with you. Thank you.

Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills)

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