From education to employment

Where the skills sector stands now Manifestos have been published

With the General Election campaign reaching its peak, all the major political parties have now published their respective manifestos. With this comes a swathe of new policy pledges which will impact apprenticeship and training providers, alongside higher education institutes across the UK.

With labour market and skills shortages impacting businesses across the board, it is vital that the next Government addresses the skills requirements needed to supply a dynamic and ever-changing economy. With this must come ambitious and joined up policy that reflects the needs of the economy in the short, medium and long term.


The Conservative Party has been in Government for 14 years and subsequently, the policy environment we currently operate within has been heavily influenced by the existing Government.

Looking ahead, however, the Conservative Manifesto has focused heavily on moving away from university courses with lower-performing results and outcomes. This will be coupled with a commitment to creating “100,000 more apprenticeships in England every year by the end of the next Parliament.” Apprenticeships will be crucial to the future of the UK economy, and further investment and increased apprenticeships is a positive step.

The relationship between higher education, apprenticeships and other forms of training must be viewed, however, as complimentary as opposed to a decision between one or the other. The provision of apprenticeships, training and higher education will all be crucial in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the UK economy and it is important the future Government understands the benefits of both and the roles all stakeholders play.


It is becoming increasingly likely that Labour will be the next party in power following the upcoming General Election happening on Thursday. With this in mind, it is positive to see that the Labour Party has placed a major focus on the provision of high-quality skills for the next generation of individuals entering the workplace.

It is vital that the next Government addresses the number of people not in education, employment or training (NEET). The Labour Party has pledged to tackle rising NEET rates by guaranteeing an apprenticeship, training or help to find work to those aged 18-21. Tackling this issue will be crucial, however, it is incredibly important that skills policy is not just focused on young people but addresses skills requirements for individuals of all ages and levels.

One of the most contentious and important areas of skills policy is the apprenticeship levy, which has been successful since its introduction in 2017 in the initial goal of doubling the number of apprenticeships. Labour’s Manifesto included a commitment to provide employers with further flexibility over how they spend levy funds.

Flexibility and refinement of the levy is now required to ensure a high-quality apprenticeship system for all ages and skills levels. This must not reduce the number of opportunities for apprenticeships though and time needs to be taken in order to review the levy among all key stakeholders. Flexibility must be carefully thought through in order to meet the needs of employers without reducing the number of apprenticeships in favour of short courses.

The announcement that Labour would bring together business, training providers and unions with national and local government, to form “Skills England” is a welcome step.

However, it is vital that this is part of a wider cross-departmental National Skills Strategy, linked to a National Industrial Strategy in order to ensure that skills, apprenticeships and training is woven into the development of policy across Whitehall.

Further, It is important to ensure that Skills England has a clearly defined purpose, however, and it is not part of another body is not established without clear direction and that ITPs and HE institutions are at the table when details are discussed.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have pledged under the banner of a “Fair Deal” to fix the “skills and recruitment crisis.” This would see a lifelong skills grant, which would allow every adult to access a £10,000 total skills wallet to spend on education and training. Similarly to the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats pledged in its Manifesto to reform the apprenticeship levy alongside a promise to expand the provision of vocational training to solve the skills gaps the economy is facing.

With the election taking place this week it is important that the major parties have focused so heavily in their respective Manifestos on the provision of further and higher education. Apprenticeships, training and higher education will be a key tenet in ensuring that the UK economy can grow and meet the needs of businesses and individuals as we navigate a dynamic and ever-changing economy.

The next Government must embed skills policy at the heart of everything it does. By establishing a National Skills Strategy linked to a National Industrial Strategy, the next Government will be able to ensure that the needs of the economy and businesses are met.

Nichola Hay MBE, Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy at BPP

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