From education to employment

Code of conduct; how the Innovation Code could be the saviour of the skills gap

The skills gap is a well-established, and well-documented headache for the UK Government. Indeed as the recovery of the economy has begun to gain traction (at least from a top level GDP and business finance perspective) it is more than likely that the issue will become even more prominent – simply because one of the downsides of some things going well is that it highlights the other things that aren’t. For example, it’s great that the UK is suddenly creating far more jobs – less so that we don’t have a workforce skilled enough to fill them (UKCES survey found nearly a quarter of jobs went unfilled because of a fundamental lack of skills).

However, although I have often been critical of the thinking and methods employed by the current Government to exchange and address these issues (its inconsistent allocation of apprenticeship funding being one such thing), I also see the importance of being equally vocal when an initiative is put in place that actually has real potential to make a difference to the way our country prepares its people, young and old, for the workplace.

The Innovation Code, introduced by the Government’s Skills Funding Agency is one such initiative. As the best ideas often are, and providing a welcome contrast to the bureaucratic complexity that often blights major initiatives in this sector, the Code is based on a simple premise: to allow colleges and training providers to react quickly to specific skill gaps and employer needs by enrolling learners onto courses that do not yet have a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) qualification. This then means that courses and training can be created that open specific career pathways and have vocational applications that are exactly what employers (and potential employees) need in order to fill emerging skills gaps – the antithesis of the generalism and vagary of experience that led to the UKCES stat mentioned above.

The scheme was initially launched in April 2012 for a period of 18 months, although thankfully, it has since been made available throughout 2013/14 (and hopefully for long after that). For me, one of the most welcome aspect of the Code is the way that its very premise is suited not just toward addressing the skills gaps of the present, but equally those of the future, making it perfect for the still-unpredictable nature of the UK economy. Should the UK be in need of a particular skill created by a sudden economic upturn (or downturn for that matter), employers and providers simply need to identify that skill and the Code can be used to react with a speed that simply would not have been possible without it. This ability creates something of a virtuous cycle in the sense that skilled workforces generally make for strong, stable economies.

As a further positive consequence, the Innovation Code also means the UK has a vocational skills and training portfolio that is fully relevant to the present. As such, this also has the potential to address a complaint the Government has articulated (not entirely fairly in my view) that the QCF is overpopulated with too many qualifications. Because of the straightforward way in which the Code allows a programme of learning to be tested prior to becoming accredited, surely it could be used to actually assist in the reduction of qualifications that populate the QCF longer-term, that are not truly fit-for-purpose (simply because they were not able to be tested with the same vigour).

By the same token, the Innovation Code projects that represent collaboration between employers, providers and AOs give each the opportunity for each of the stakeholders to refine and modify at every stage of the process. As a result, if it does become fully accredited (as a number of Code projects now have been) there is a certainty, rather than just a likelihood, that it will be fit-for-purpose.

In my experience of working with the Innovation Code, bringing together AOs with employers and providers has been the key to the scheme’s success to date – and also provides the impetus for the way forward. This aspect is a natural part of the Code’s process, but just as the Whitehead Review recommended, the more, and indeed sooner, that AOs and providers and employers engage with each other, the more productive and efficient the whole process is.

For all of these reasons, it’s my view that the introduction of the Innovation Code is one of the most sensible things that Government has done in some time. However, my one gripe is that not enough seems to have been done to promote the initiative and communicate its benefits – which is somewhat disheartening when it offers such potential for tackling not just needs within the vocational education sector, but also the long term economic stability of the country. As with anything that is new and deviates from the usual way of doing so, there is naturally a certain amount of resistance, even a to-good-to-be-true suspicion factor, but surely the Government should have launched a more vigorous and targeted promotion and publicity of the Code. As it is, after the initial launch by the SFA, it has been primarily left to people like me (and companies like Active IQ), with an industry vantage point that is not necessarily commonplace, to fly the flag. It’s a great scheme, but it won’t fulfill its potential unless people know about it.

Suzy Gunn is operations director at Active IQ, the awarding organization covering health, fitness, sport and recreation

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