UK skills gap: are Institutes of Technology the answer?

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The government’s new Institutes of Technology are a step in the right direction for plugging the UK’s skills gap, but there are some key elements missing that must be addressed to ensure their success.

The government recently announced that it is creating 12 Institutes of Technology across the country. Backed by a £170 million investment from the Department for Education, the new institutes are intended to offer top-quality, higher level technical education, with the aim of plugging skills gaps in key STEM areas.

The announcement couldn’t be better timed. Research conducted last year by the City & Guilds Group found that for almost half (47%) of UK employers, struggling to recruit skilled workers was the top internal factor impacting the productivity of their business over the next three to five years.

Any investment into quality technical training that will help develop the next generation of skilled workers should be welcomed, so that many of the UK’s vital industries are supported.

The announcement raises a number of questions, however, that need to be addressed first if the new institutes are to be implemented successfully and make the impact that the UK needs.

A win for vocational education

First and foremost, we should celebrate the new institutes as a win for vocational education.

The UK’s education system is biased towards traditional academic paths, with the consequence of signposting university as the only route into employment for the country’s young people – and our future talent pool.

The new Institutes of Technology are certainly a step in the right direction towards giving vocational education the recognition it deserves.

As skills gaps continue to widen across the UK’s most vital industries though, creating parity of esteem between traditional education pathways and alternative vocational routes is vital if we are to ensure the strengthening of our talent pipeline for the generations to come.

As STEM sector skills gaps are among the worst in the country, we need the UK’s young people to recognise vocational education as a credible route into a long-term career.

Employers are looking to bring young people into their workforce already equipped with the necessary skills required for their industry, which the new institutes will enable them to do.

Avoid training ‘cold spots’

While this is all great progress, it is disappointing to see a high concentration of institutes in some areas and major gaps in others. Without reaching all areas of the UK, we risk creating training ‘cold spots’ where young learners are shut out and miss the opportunity to hone their skills.

While there is a high concentration of institutes in and around London, it is particularly concerning to see the whole of the north west region left out in the cold.

City & Guilds Group’s Gen2 business, an Ofsted graded outstanding training provider located in Cumbria, has seen first-hand the severity of technical skills gaps in businesses across the area.

Investment alone will not be enough to give technical training the power it needs to ensure for the continuation of our talent pipeline...it is futile without ensuring a quality outcome follows.

Last year, research conducted by the group found that nearly half (47%) of employers in the north west are struggling to recruit the skilled staff they need, with over two thirds (67%) anticipating skills gaps will stay the same or get worse in the coming years.

If the new institutes are to achieve their aim of closing skills gaps and equipping the next generation with the skills they need to start their career, it is imperative that they are accessible to all of the UK’s young people, across all areas of the country.

The Department for Education must also ensure that those who are fortunate enough to live near to an allocated Institute of Technology do not have their options limited by the specialism of their local institute.

It’s great to see so many big employers already attached to the new system, such as Siemens, Nissan and Microsoft, but we must ensure this doesn’t lead to a restricted syllabus that is limited to just the specialism of the associated employer, rather than the skills needs of the wider country.

Investment alone isn’t enough

While we welcome and commend the £170 million investment into technical training, we need to look at the stark reality.

Split between at least 12 institutes, this funding will probably not go as far as we need it to – and without the right provision and set-up from the start, the institutes may not be able to fulfill the critical role they were created for.  

Investment alone will not be enough to give technical training the power it needs to ensure for the continuation of our talent pipeline.

Financial backing is of course important, but it is futile without ensuring a quality outcome follows.

Recently, the City & Guilds Group published Making Apprenticeships Work – a new report that demonstrates the quality framework that needs to be in place to ensure apprenticeships are carried out to a high standard.

We would strongly recommend that the government measures the new Institutes of Technology by a similar framework to ensure the training delivered is of high quality and effective.

Technical training is key to securing the UK’s future

When implemented and taught effectively, high-level technical education is one of our most powerful assets for defeating the skills crisis.

We need to ensure we are doing all we can to create technical training centres that are delivering world-class vocational education – only then will we be able to guarantee the scientists, engineers and programmers of tomorrow.

If the new Institutes of Technology are to be the answer, they must operate effectively and deliver training of the highest quality possible.

For that to happen we need to ensure the learning delivery models intended for the new institutes are fit for purpose, that the teachers and training methods used are going to provide the successful outcomes that are so needed, and that learners understand and have access to these programmes as a route for progression.

Interested in this topic? Read How L&D can help tackle the UK’s tech skills gap.

About Martin Hottass

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