Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager at NCFE

The £600m a year #NationalSkillsFund should #LevelUp the skills of adults, says new paper by @NCFE and @CForLearning  

A new policy paper launched by two leading education and skills charities calls on the new Conservative Government to use the much welcome £600m a year National Skills Fund to level-up the skills of adults aged 24 and over, wherever they live.

In recent years, we have seen unprecedented change across the UK’s economic and labour market. Longer working lives and automation will impact on adults of all ages in prosperous and less prosperous areas of England and no adult should be left behind.

Making a Success of the National Skills Fund’ features an array of expert contributors from across the post-18 education and skills sector -including higher education, further education, LEPs and combined authorities - there is real excitement that the National Skills Fund could be a stepping stone to a Right to Retrain in the 2020s.

In their 2019 General Election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to introduce a National Skills Fund from 2021 which would provide £3 billion over five years, contributing towards retraining and upskilling the adult workforce.

The collection of articles in the paper explore the proposed National Skills Fund and an individual’s right to retraining in more detail, highlighting some of the major challenges the policy faces alongside issues which are set to further impact the economy, such as:

  • The Devolution Issue - A critical question the Government should consider is how funding for the National Skills Fund should be distributed. Some contributors call for the NSF to be devolved to elected mayors and LEPs. Others call for the NSF to be combined with the Adult Education Budget and allow providers to compete for funds. There are also those who suggest that funding should be devolved to adults through a system of personal skill accounts linked, perhaps, to a right to time off for adult retraining.
  • The National Retraining Scheme - There is also a strong case to retain the National Retraining Scheme. It is one of the few programmes with a focus on sectors rather than a single employer - such as the apprenticeship levy - or a geographic area - such as the Adult Education Budget. The decision by the Government not to have a low-skilled worker route under its skills-based immigration system due to be introduced from 1st January 2020 will mean sectors such as adult social care, hospitality and construction will have to recruit from the resident labour force. A skills-based immigration policy adds to the case for retraining and expanding a sector-focused National Retraining Scheme.
  • Building on the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding - The National Skills Fund will need to operate alongside existing funding streams including the partially devolved Adult Education Budget. Last May, the Review Panel on Post-18 Education and Funding in England called for an extension to free training for adults of any age seeking a first full Level 2 and first full Level 3 at a cost of £500m. There is a strong case for adopting this proposal. This would mean the National Skills Fund could be used to support re-training.
  • More than Free Courses - An often quoted adage is that skills can help adults out of insecure and low paid jobs, but in today's flexible labour market, the reality is insecure and low paid jobs prevent training and retraining. The challenge of creating a retraining revolution goes beyond free provision. Low paid adults in insecure jobs have to put earning before retraining unless they receive maintenance grants and loans to help them make ends meet whilst training.

Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager at NCFE, commented:

“NCFE has always been committed to helping promote and advance learning for learners of all ages and from all walks of life. It is our belief that every adult – whether 24 or 64 - should have the same opportunities to train and retrain that are given to young people in full-time education.

“Longer working lives, automation and flexible labour markets are going to have a huge impact on our economy which is why need to do everything we can now to ensure that the foundations are in place, through the National Skills Fund and other measures, to address challenges as they arise and equip our workforce with the skills they need for success in an ever-changing market.”


Making a Success of the National Skills Fund

As we enter the 2020s, adults and employers are confronted with unprecedented economic and labour market change, in this context NCFE and Campaign for Learning asked twelve authors to set out their initial thoughts on the National Skills Fund, and the journey towards a ‘right to retraining’. 

These leading thinkers recommend policies for the reform of adult education to support a changing economy in this collection of articles.

Exploring the proposed National Skills Fund and an individual’s right to retraining in more detail, these articles highlight some of the major challenges the policy faces, alongside issues which are set to further impact the economy.

The authors are:

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute - Renewing Lifelong Learning through the National Skills Fund

  • Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) - Backing Adults: Turning the National Skills Fund into Skills Accounts

  • Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) - Funding Skills Accounts through the National Skills Fund

  • Ewart Keep, Director of SKOPE, University of Oxford - A Dual Approach - Retain the National Retraining Scheme and Devolve the National Skills Fund

  • Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North Tyne Combined Authority - Devolve the National Skills Fund to Elected Mayors and LEPs

  • Gemma Gathercole, Productivity & Skills Executive Officer at the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) - The National Skills Fund and Part-In, Part-Out Devolution

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges - Bringing the National Skills Fund and Adult Education Budget Together

  • Simon Parkinson, CEO and General Secretary, Workers’ Education Association (WEA) - The National Skills Fund – Engaging the Whole Community

  • Kim Chaplain, Director for Work, Centre for Ageing Better - The National Skills Fund – No Older Adult Left Behind

  • Greg Wade, Policy Manager, Universities UK - HE and FE must collaborate over the National Skills Fund

  •  Andy Westwood, University of Manchester - From the National Skills Fund to a ‘Right to Retraining’

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