From education to employment

FE responds to Apprenticeship and employment ambitions in Queen’s Speech

A selection of responses from leaders in the FE and Skills sectors to the Queen’s speech today:

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “AELP welcomes the statement in the Queen’s Speech that legislation will be brought forward to help achieve full employment and provide more people with the security of a job.

“The statutory commitment to report on progress to increase the number of apprenticeships is very important in terms of supporting employers with the skills they need to sustain the economic recovery. Today’s OECD report also underlines the need to provide more apprenticeship opportunities for young people and official data shows that the proportion of new starts for 16 to 24 year olds has been increasing again after a decline in the first half of the last Parliament.

“AELP believes that the aspiration for 3 million more apprenticeships can be achieved without risking the quality of the training under the programme. We are making a series of recommendations to the government on what changes are required to stimulate more demand from both employers and young people, while agreeing with the skills minister that apprenticeships should remain all age, all level and all sector programme.

“The government has indicated its wish to see more higher apprenticeships offered and the recent increase in the use of the apprenticeship approach in the professions is a welcome return to tried and trusted routes to high level skills that have existed for many years. Nursing, teaching, solicitors, accountants should all be routes where apprenticeships can be an effective alternative route to qualification and the recruitment challenges facing the NHS and our schools can be better addressed if more apprenticeships are available for them. The public sector in general recruits fewer apprentices than the private sector, so national and local government and government agencies must review their apprenticeship intake.

“Not all young people are ready to start an apprenticeship after they have left school and the government’s Traineeship programme should be the main transition programme for young people. However the government is still restricting access for young people and many employers because there is still the barrier to entry for many training providers wishing to offer the programme. The government must remove this restriction as soon as possible to ensure that we have an effective transition programme for new starts to apprenticeships.

“The Queen’s Speech includes a bill to introduce 30 hours of free childcare but the childcare sector is now in the middle of a recruitment crisis because of new and restrictive GCSE qualification requirements for nursery workers. Settings will not be able to meet demand from parents as a result of this legislation unless the government agrees as a matter of urgency to review the criteria for starting a childcare apprenticeship programme and other relevant qualifications.

“AELP hopes to see more of a drive towards an integrated approach to skills and employment provision, including the promised expansion of the Troubled Families programme, as a proven means of securing more sustainable employment for people in Britain.”

Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group, said: ??”The enthusiasm for reaching three million apprenticeships underscores the importance of vocational training for people up and down the country. ??

“However, numbers don’t mean anything unless apprenticeships offer a quality teaching and learning experience for every apprentice. If reaching targets becomes more important than ensuring quality, apprenticeships could lose their credibility and the progress we’ve made so far will be undone. If we get the quality right, the numbers will come. ??”We welcome the Chancellor’s focus on matching increased employment with increased productivity. Investment in skills development and training is one of the best ways to boost output per worker, benefiting the individual, the employer and the economy. Encouraging and developing a national culture of lifelong learning will go a long way towards a lasting solution to reverse the stagnating productivity trend.”

Kirstie Donnelly, UK managing director of City & Guilds, added:

“Giving cities greater control over skills and employment is a positive step forward that will better suit the needs of local job markets. Councils have a clearer picture of the skills and jobs that are in demand in their areas, and so are best-placed to make decisions that benefit local needs. Within the devolution agenda, we would like to see the government go further and establish Local Enterprise Partnerships on a statutory basis to help bridge the gap between education and business.”

David Hughes, chief executive of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said: “The reference in the Queen’s speech today on ‘productive potential’ is a useful reminder of a critical malaise in our economy. Productivity is too low and relatively low skills levels in the workforce are hampering innovation and efficiency gains. It is exciting to see a new Government set out to tackle this as one of their most important ambitions because we know that a new culture of lifelong learning supporting greater skills investment by employers and individuals are vital parts of the solution.

“To achieve three million new Apprenticeships in five years will be a challenge, but will also be a significant achievement. We expect the Budget in July will offer a tough settlement across all unprotected public services, so we welcome the Government’s continued commitment to Apprenticeships. The Queen announced that the Government will legislate to require Government ministers to report annually on the number of jobs and apprenticeships created. This is a good opportunity to secure apprenticeship growth for all ages and in sectors relevant to local labour market skills shortages, matched with our proposals to ensure every apprenticeship is high quality and leads to a sustainable job after completion, career progression and with it rising wages and productivity. We would also like to see reports on wider skills investment in the public sector to address the productivity issues.

“The Queen also announced legislation to reform the welfare system to encourage people in to work and ensure all young people are earning or learning. As a society, there are compelling economic reasons for strengthening the learning-earnings link regardless of age. But the reality is that our employment and skills systems operate too independently which means people don’t get the right support, slip through the net and find that they can’t progress up the career ladder. For low paid workers, NIACE proposes to create a Careers Advancement Service offering 1:1 support for people on in-work benefits to get the guidance and skills they need to progress. For people with disabilities, we’ve proposed to reform Employment Support Allowance to enable people access training and work by integrating health, skills and employment support. And for young people, we welcome proposals for a Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds. We outlined how this could work in practice in Ten Policies for Ten People.

“Increasing apprenticeships, integrating employment and skills services for better outcomes, achieving full employment and, in the words of Her Majesty, realising our “productive potential” needs strong and empowered Cities which is why NIACE supports the announcement today of legislation to continue to devolve powers through elected Mayors across England. We strongly believe localised services can better meet the needs of local economies; get the right help to people furthest away from the labour market and help alleviate Britain’s productivity crisis.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The pledge outlined in the Queens Speech to achieve full employment is a positive and bold one but cannot be achieved by welfare reform alone. The new Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill must look beyond just the number of people in work and consider how individuals are equipped with the necessary skills to get into and get on at work. The CIPD believes there needs to be a fundamental review of skills policy to complement welfare reform activities. We need a stronger focus on increasing employer investment in skills and improving skills utilisation, more workplace development and more efforts to create the high-performance workplaces the UK needs to increase productivity and living standards for all.

“The commitment to creating three million apprenticeships is welcome, but this must be supported by better careers advice and guidance in schools and be employer-led. Equally, it’s not just about hitting a target number. We need to look at the quality of the apprenticeships, the industries they’re in and the extent to which they’re part of any strategy to modernise the workplace and upskill the workforce.

“The improved scope for childcare to support better working lives is also a positive move, but there is more that can be done to bridge the gap between parents and work for those with children aged under three. Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction but we need a national strategy for childcare to address the barriers that currently prevent parents from getting into work and give them as much opportunity to work if they so choose.

“Improving the quality of work and raising UK productivity has to be the number one economic priority for the Government. We welcome the commitment to measures that will raise the productive potential of the economy and increase living standards but there will be no quick fixes here. The productivity weaknesses that continue to undermine economic growth are both deep-rooted and complex. Things like infrastructure investment and ensuring businesses and entrepreneurs have access to finance are, of course, crucial but we also need to consider how we reverse the decline in both public and private sector investment in skills. Organisations need to understand how to utilise people’s skills in the workplace more effectively through the adoption of better leadership and people management practices, particularly among small businesses. The HR profession is at the heart of this change and we look forward to working with the Government on this agenda.”

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