Freelance Training Consultant
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The government and apprenticeships pt4

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13th Aug 2012
Freelance Training Consultant
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In part four of a five part series, James Flanagan and Polly Newport explore the Coalition Goverment's apprenticeship strategy.

Skills policy

Improving skills in the UK workforce is a key element of the Coalition Government's agenda. This addresses two pressures in the UK economy. The first – increasing employment levels through ensuring that the workforce and individuals in particular have the skills that businesses need especially during a time of recession. There is evidence from previous recessions that young people suffer disproportionately during a recession. 'The early 1980s recession had a lasting adverse effect on the employment prospects of low-skilled young people aged 16-18 in 1981.'[1]In failing to get their first job, young people can develop habits and behaviours of dependency on welfare that are difficult to overturn later in life even as the economy recovers. 
Therefore, a key aspect of the Coalition Government's approach has been to encourage and support people to get into work through the Work Programme. Having or acquiring the right skills for work is a key part of the Work Programme; the emphasis is on ensuring that people get into or return to work, with a particular focus on young people in the 16 – 24 age bracket. This is against a background in which those with few or no qualifications receive little training. 
'Throughout the last decade, people with no qualifications have been around three times less likely to receive job-related training than those with some qualifications'[2]
"Having or acquiring the right skills for work is a key part of the Work Programme; the emphasis is on ensuring that people get into or return to work, with a particular focus on young people in the 16 – 24 age bracket."
The second pressure relates to the UK's overall competitive position. Having the right skills also pays a critical role in the UK's success in the competitive global markets. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published its 2010 report 'Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK' in August 2010. On the first page, the report stated:
'The UK remains the 6th largest economy in the world and the 4th largest in the OECD (behind the USA, Japan and Germany)... The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranks the UK as the 13th most competitive in the world, down one place from 2008/09.'
'Regarding skills, despite significant progress in recent years, Britain is still ranked 12th, 18th and 17th on high level, intermediate and low level skills respectively.'
This differential between economic activity, competiveness and the skills of the working population encapsulates the concern that resonates in the Coalition Government about the levels of skills in the UK and in particular intermediate and low level skills in our working population.
'Our working age population is less skilled than that of France, Germany and the US and this contributes to the UK being at least 15% less productive than those countries'[3]
This challenge has led the Coalition Government to review the way that skills training is funded and delivered in the UK, seeking to achieve less centralised funding, produce a better linkage of training to employers' needs and enable learners to choose training that is valued by businesses. 
To achieve this, the Coalition Government is particularly focused on those aged 16 – 24, segmenting this group into: 16 – 18 years old, especially those that are NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training), and the 19- 24 age group. It is seen that improving skills is not just about global economic competitiveness but also has personal and social benefits. As stated in the BIS strategy paper 'Skills for Sustainable Growth'.
 
"...it can be seen that the Coalition government has attached significant importance to work-based learning and in particular to the use of apprenticeships to improve important and basic skills in the working population."
'This Government's purpose is to return the economy to sustainable growth, extend social inclusion and social mobility and build the Big Society. Underpinning every aspect of this purpose is the improvement of skills.’[4]As John Hayes, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning said at City & Islington College on 17 June 2010, "Even before Lord Leitch [5]published his compelling analysis of the problem, it's been no secret to most of us that skills are economically vital. And that doesn't apply just to the manufacturing and industrial sector, but right across our economy, to the service and retail sectors, and the public sector too."[6]
This is against a backdrop where on 22 July 2011 a report [7]was released that shows that in certain areas of the country one third of the adult population have no formal qualifications at all. 
Therefore, it can be seen that the Coalition government has attached significant importance to work-based learning and in particular to the use of apprenticeships to improve important and basic skills in the working population, especially in those coming into work or having recently joined the workforce.

 

[1]The threat of 'scarring' ESRC report on the impact of recession on people's jobs businesses and daily lives 2009, Economic Social Research Council
[2]Poverty.org website
[3]ONS: International Comparisons of Productivity, October 2010
[4]BIS Skills for Sustainable Growth November 2010
[5]Lord Leitch published a report into UK skills in 2007
[6]BIS Skills for Sustainable Growth November 2010
[7]University College Union

James Flanagan and Polly Newport are directors of Ardanaire

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