From education to employment

Social Partnership and Workforce Skills

Iain Murray, TUC

#Post16RevolutionaryReforms – The overwhelming policy priority for government at present must be to boost jobs and skills to combat the fallout from Covid-19 and to reduce significantly the numbers facing unemployment.

In this context the impending post-16 white paper needs to address this immediate challenge as well as providing a route map for longer-term reform.

Additionally, the government must assimilate its vision for FE and skills into a wider economic strategy that triggers a better recovery and builds a fairer and greener Britain.

Combatting the impact of Covid-19

Since lockdown the TUC has called for a significant skills boost on three fronts to address the impact of Covid-19, as follows:

  1. a job guarantee programme targeted initially on young people with a flexible training component, including the option for commencing a proper apprenticeship
  2. an ‘education and training guarantee’ for all school leavers and other young people that would support access to an apprenticeship, a place at college or university, and other education and training options, and
  3. a new right to retrain for everybody, backed up by funding and personal lifelong learning accounts.

Young people

The Kickstart programme has gone some way to meeting our call for a subsidised job programme for young people, but we are of the view that a dedicated training component would go some way to increasing progression rates to permanent employment. The pandemic has hit apprentices hard with new starts down by over a half since lockdown and a rapidly growing number of redundancies.

Action on a number of other fronts is urgently required, including a commitment by government to establish a cast-iron guarantee for all existing apprentices to complete their training and to give employers and unions the opportunity to flex the levy to maximise apprenticeship recruitment in the coming period.

But our apprenticeship system requires longer term reform to address wide-ranging challenges and key priorities must include new measures to:

  • strengthen enforcement of employment and training rights,
  • boost wage levels and provide universal travel discounts,
  • improve equality of access and;
  • guarantee a minimum progression to a Level 3 apprenticeship for all our young people.


The Chancellor said very little in his announcement in July about adult skills and this was partly put down to the necessary focus on young people and the anticipated white paper. The government’s response to the Augar Review will now finally emerge and the TUC is pressing for many of its proposals to be fast-tracked, especially the following:

  • a new funded entitlement for all adults to progress to a Level 3 qualification
  • improved financial support for FE students,
  • and making investment in the FE workforce a priority.

Pre-Pandemic Funding Announcements

There have been some welcome pledges to increase investment, including increased capital spending of £1.8bn to upgrade our college estate and an additional £600 million per annum on a new National Skills Fund. But these two specific spending commitments were made before the pandemic hit and were openly aimed at repairing the damage done by years of cuts. For example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that the promised additional investment on the National Skills Fund would only reverse about one fifth of the cuts to total spending on adult education and skills since 2010.

A New Context for the Post-16 White Paper

Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic and its dire impact on the economy and employment has created an entirely new context for the post-16 white paper which is also a vehicle for responding to the Augar Review of Post-18 Education in England. A more substantial and sustained response is required.

A Significant Funding Boost

We need an unambiguous commitment from government that it will provide the necessary funding to support a huge expansion of learning and training opportunities to boost job prospects in the coming months and to sustain the FE and skills system over the coming years.

A Stronger Apprenticeship and Technical Education Offer

It is anticipated that the white paper will reinforce the current direction of travel on expanding take-up of technical qualifications by more young people and adults through the introduction of T levels and revitalising of higher-level qualifications. The TUC supports the broad thrust of this policy approach and our ambition must be to emulate high-quality and well-funded apprenticeship and technical education systems in other countries.

A Step Change in Adult Training and Retraining for Unemployed Workers

The government must now press ahead with a much-expanded skills offer for the increasing number of workers losing their jobs as a result of Covid-19. It should bring forward committed funding for the National Skills Fund (£600m per annum from b2021-22) into the 2020/21 financial year. And for the longer term we need a massive adult retraining programme.

Strategic collaboration

Putting in place extensive skills reforms which the nation needs will require a high degree of strategic coordination by government, employers, unions and other stakeholders. According to a recent OECD report the UK lacks the national social partnership arrangements that underpin high-quality skill systems in many other countries.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the white paper should embrace the principle of social partnership between government, employers and unions and create a National Skills Taskforce covering apprenticeships, technical education and workforce training.
  2. Second, the white paper should empower all young people to attain a Level 3 qualification or advanced apprenticeship and outline a clear pathway to progress to Level 4-5 higher technical education.
  3. And third, the white paper should commit to the radical reform of adult training and retraining based on a new right to paid time off for education and training for workers, a new entitlement to a mid-life skills/career review, the development of an all-age careers guidance service and extra adult skills funding linked to Personal Learning Accounts.

Iain Murray, TUC

‘Revolutionary Forces’

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, “Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper“, takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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