From education to employment

Skills Battle to be Fought on Local Community Front Line

All this talk of a “skills deficit” and the threat of “globalisation” can be a lot to stomach. The view from the top is not looking rosy, yet policy makers bombard us with wide-ranging and non-specific aims, perhaps to quench the public’s thirst for a soundbite ““ sized objective and further detail any advance.

Amidst all of this, the local communities, local colleges, local heroes and local councils all try to go about their business, taking a beating from the top and suffering from the bottom. This spirit of locality was something Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), touched on. Launching into his speech on Thursday 8th June at Birmingham’s ICC, the morning session of the two-day conference saw some recognition of the local factor.

A Powerful Contribution

“The powerful contribution to the individual sense of self is the investment in human spirit which the sector has kept alive and developed. The width, depth and complexity of the sector is excellent,” he said, stirring up enthusiasm amongst the assembled delegates. “The notion of public sector reform is what the DCLG is about. We hope we have intelligent approaches to investment in reform.” On the point of local community strength in driving forward skills, he said: “We believe this sense of local empowerment is critically important,” using the phrase “double devolution”. “The progressive decentralisation of society is the modern practice of public sector reform.”

True, excessive centralisation of authority and policy often fails to reflect the communities they seek to remedy, proving once and for all that bandying around the word diversity is clearly rife. Using an example from the primary school sector, he said: “The government deployed a tightly developed mode when pushing forward improvement in primary school literacy and numeracy.” Pinpointing the end result, that arguably everyone in the sector strives for, he said: “Skills and personal development mean individuals can get rid of profound inequities. I”m interested specifically in skills training.”

Regional and local Partnerships

Continuing along this theme of self-regulation and self-improvement, his department’s policy became clear. “We see at the local level regional skills partnerships. It is rightly proper for towns to be thinking about their own economic rationale.” However, the dangers are inherent, and fairly obvious to boot: “Poorly structured and badly managed partnerships could create the situation where you”re worse off. You need good labour market intelligence and wider buying; to get a sense of where you want to get to.”

Refreshingly, the outlining of specific policies aimed at actually improving the skills gap rather than underlining it was welcome. “We need to be constantly engaging with the work and deriving a clear sense of priorities.” But this does not come without hard work, as he recognised: “Persistence ““ none of these things come easily. You cannot afford to be short term. These things will be about questions of equity.”

“I”m delighted to be about to make some small contribution to the discussion today.”

Vijay Pattni

Talk to the FE Monkey as she talks to you in From the FE Trenches!

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