From education to employment

3.30pm: Businesses focus heavily to enable UK to compete globally

The government must increase investment across all skills levels at an annual rate of between £1.5 and £2 billion by 2020.

Further, employers should be given a stronger voice and a new “Commission for Employment and Skills” should be created to manage employer influence on skills.

These are some of the findings contained in Lord Sandy Leitch’s long awaited final report on the UK’s optimal skills mix, to be attained by 2020. Entitled “Prosperity for all in the global economy ““ world class skills”, the report also calls for the development of a network of employer-led “Employment and Skills Boards”, emulating the system currently in place in London.

Lord Leitch says in the report: “Our recommendations start with an ambitious vision. The UK must become a world leader in skills. Skills [are] the most important lever within our control to create wealth and to reduce social deprivation. We recommend radical change right across the skills spectrum. We have defined clear ambitions at basic, intermediate and higher skills. Our study focuses on adult skills but we express concern and suggest action for 14-19s”.

“Economically valuable skills” is our mantra. Institutional change and simplification are necessary. Employer and individual awareness must increase. To reach our goals, we as a society must invest more. It is clear who will pay. It is all of us ““ it is the State, employers and individuals. But this will be the best investment we could ever make”, he added.

Underlining the philosophy behind his report, Lord Leitch is quoted as suggesting that employers and individuals should shoulder the cost where they reap they greatest private reward, with government funding focused solely on “market failures”. The reformed system should be demand-led, and focus on “economically valuable skills: “Wherever possible, skills should be portable to deliver mobility in the labour market for individuals and employers”.

Further, he notes that once government is successfully on track to deliver the new specialised Diplomas, it should implement “a change in the law, so that all young people must remain in full or part-time education or workplace training up to the age of 18”.

In response, Chief Executive of the Sector Skills Development Agency, Mark Fisher, commented on the publication of Lord Leitch’s review: “The Leitch Review gives a thoughtful and direct steer on what action the UK needs to take to develop a world-class workforce so that it remains competitive in the global market. Leitch recognises that we must transform the dynamics of skills in the UK by putting employers in the driving seat of workforce development”.

“It is vital that employers across all sectors must be involved if we are to close the enormous skills gaps that are threatening future competitiveness. We believe it is crucial that the provision of skills and training is simplified, with a more streamlined system grounded in employer needs.

“Employers in the 25 Sector Skills Councils, which together represent 85% of the UK’s workforce, have called for a more responsive supply-side in education: in colleges and universities, qualifications bodies and funding bodies. They wish to see more relevant, up-to-date education and better skills development at all levels in the workforce and at all ages in order to create more profitable private companies and better performing public services”.

Commenting on the publication of the Leitch Review of Skills, Richard Wilson, Director of Communications at The Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Education remains the weak flank of the UK economy. Skills shortages and skills gaps hold businesses back. The Leitch Review of Skills will crystallise the scale of the challenge that the UK faces in improving its education and skills base”.

“The Government must continue to close the funding gap between sixth forms and FE colleges that currently acts in favour of sixth forms”.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commented on the release of the report: “The TUC welcomes the Leitch Review of Skills as an ambitious and coherent strategy to revolutionise workplace learning and eradicate low skills by 2020”.

“Lord Leitch’s call on employers to publicly pledge their commitment to increase skills sends a strong message to those employers who short change staff, and the UK economy, by refusing to train”.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] has also endorsed Lord Leitchs findings. NIACE Director Alan Tuckett said: “The ball is now firmly in the employers” court. If the government accepts Lord Leitch’s recommendations, there can be no excuses if they fail to deliver. NIACE is ready to help them rise to the challenge”.

“The proposal on increasing the proportion of funding available for learner demand is built on the idea of the intelligent consumer. But what we know of many adults failed by initial education is that they approach adult learning with only tentative ideas about their learning journeys. If the Department of Work and Pensions” goal of an employment rate of 80% is to be met, there is a real challenge ahead to ensure that the adult population has the right skills for the jobs that will be replaced or created”, he added.

NUS Vice President [Further Education] Ellie Russell also plegded her wholehearted welcome to the proposals.

She said: “The report has given vital recognition to the FE sector. It should enable a huge cash injection into FE for existing and new workers and NUS agree that FE is clearly the route to deliver the necessary changes to aid a thriving economy”.

“Leitch advocates powerfully for the strengthening of FE sector as a whole, but a heavy focus on employer engagement must be balanced with learner engagement and the increasing personalisation of the FE system”.

Lord Leitch noted: “The prize for achieving this ambition is great ““ a more prosperous and fairer society. The Review estimates a possible net benefit of at least £80 billion over 30 years. This would come from a boost in the productivity growth rate of up to 15% and an increase in the employment growth rate by around 10%. Social deprivation, poverty and inequality will diminish”.

“The UK will be able to compete with the best in the world. Productivity and employment rates will increase. Poverty and inequality will decrease”.

Read Lord Leitch’s final report here.

Vijay Pattni.

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