From education to employment

Sector responds to Lord Mandelson’s Skills for Growth White Paper

A new target to get 75 per cent of people under 30 into university or advanced vocational education has been unveiled by the government, as figures today show the number of unemployed young people has increased to 15,000.

Delivering the Skills for Growth – the National Skills Strategy White Paper, Skills Secretary Lord Mandelson insisted “equipping unemployed people with the skills they need to get jobs in key sectors will be essential to a strong recovery”.

The White Paper places a new premium on higher skills, “especially the technician skills that are the foundation of high tech, low carbon industry”, and will give more choice and better information to learners.

Lord Mandelson continued: “To build this technician class, we will further expand the apprenticeship system, by creating 35,000 new advanced places for those aged 19 to 30 over the next two years. The aim of creating this technician class will also be aided by the new generation of University Technical Colleges whose creation we are supporting.

“To turn these apprenticeships into potential ladders to university, from 2011, all apprenticeship frameworks at Levels 3 and 4 will be required to have UCAS tariff points just like A-levels, so that holders can apply for, and make their way into university. We will also commit to Alan Milburn’s Panel on Fair Access to the Professions’ recommendation that we create an Apprenticeship Scholarship Fund that will provide one-off bursaries of up to £1,000 for 1,000 apprentices entering higher education every year.”

Lord Mandelson also revealed plans to significantly cut the number of publicly supported bodies delivering skills policy by more than 30 to pour more money into the sector.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers (ALP), said: “The re-confirmation of the priority to develop and grow apprenticeships is of course absolutely right, as is the continuing emphasis on securing basic skills and vocational skills for all up to at least NVQ Level 2. Also welcome is the commitment to strengthen the opportunity for apprentices to enter higher education in a much more structured and simplified way than at present.

“Overall, a solid paper which gains ALP’s broad support, but undoubtedly the detailed discussions that follow will ultimately determine its effectiveness or otherwise. It does, at the present time, read as a long list of worthy aspirations. I suspect, however, that the availability of resources over the next few years will necessitate a prioritisation which may in parts prove controversial and painful.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), also welcomed the “broad direction of travel in this strategy document” but stressed the devil will be in the detail.

“We are also very encouraged by the funding of increased numbers of high level apprenticeships and the development of progression routes within vocational learning and into higher education; this, we think, reflects an understanding of vocational and academic studies as complementary and equal partners,” added Mr Doel.

However, Alastair Thomson, principal advocacy officer of The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), the non-government body for lifelong learning, warned the Government to remember its duty lies with individuals, not businesses.

“Despite the achievements of the Skills for Life strategy, there are millions of people – including those most in need – who haven’t yet been helped. We welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to basic skills but will need to ensure there is a full ladder of progression throughout the whole Qualifications and Credit Framework. Adults, particularly at entry level, need more, not less, funding,” said Mr Thomson.

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