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Revolutionary Forces discussion paper – top takeaways

In our recent discussion paper published in partnership with Campaign for Learning, a host of experts from across the FE, labour market economics, employment and mental health sectors explored the revolutionary forces facing the UK economy and what the Government needs to include in its post-16 white paper to ensure that as a sector, we’re prepared for the road ahead.

In this blog, we’ve summarised some of the key takeaways from the paper, but you can read the document in full here.

  1. The changing structure of the UK economy

Changing patterns of trade in the aftermath of Brexit, a new greener industrial policy and the risk of further waves of Covid-19 are set to change the structure of the UK economy throughout the 2020s. However these changes play out, the basic task of the post-16 education and skills system is to produce skilled workers to meet the need of domestic industries.

  1. Lower demand for unskilled labour

Increasing automation was predicted to lead to job losses in sectors dominated by elementary occupations and low paid jobs. Covid-19 has sped up this process and some jobs lost because of the pandemic might never fully return. Mass redundancies can be expected once the Job Retention Scheme ceases at the end of October 2020.

  1. No over-supply of unskilled labour

Prior to the start of the pandemic, a chief concern was a lack of migrant workers from the European Union available to take low-paid atypical jobs when the UK introduces its skills-based immigration system in 2021. While demand for ‘unskilled’ labour has fallen off a cliff in light of the pandemic with industries such as retail and hospitality largely shut down, when things start to reopen, there will be a fresh impetus to train the resident workforce to plug recruitment gaps left behind.

  1. Managing youth unemployment when there are more 16-24 year olds

The recession caused by Covid-19 will result in a sharp rise in youth unemployment. While measures to shield 16-17 year olds and 18-24 year olds from joblessness are expected to be announced as part of the Economic Statement in July, the problem will not go away, especially when the cohort of 16-24 year olds is expected to grow. The government needs to outline a long-term plan to not only reduce youth unemployment, but increase the skills and qualifications of young people.

  1. An earlier and different adult training and retraining revolution

Looming mass unemployment and longer working lives are key drivers for a training and retraining revolution for adult education. The post-16 white paper must map out a long-term road map for adult training and retraining during the 2020s.

  1. Atypical employment, low pay and more ‘gig’ jobs

In these uncertain times, there is a risk that atypical employment (part-time workers, zero hour contract workers, agency workers, temporary and self-employed staff) might spread as employers look to cut costs, which could have serious implications for the demand, funding and delivery of post-16 education and skills.

  1. Lower Employer Investment in Training

Employer investment in training has been falling since the 2008 financial crash. Another ratchet downwards could occur if regular employment fails to recover and gig jobs rise in the post Covid-19 era.

  1. Reviewing the Apprenticeship Levy in England

The post-16 white paper must address whether the apprenticeship levy in England can meet the apprenticeship needs of private sector employers in the years ahead if the revenue raised continues to fall.

  1. Lower adult participation in skills

Acquiring skills is a route out of low paid insecure jobs, but the reality is that low paid workers must put earning before learning in order to make ends meet, preventing participation in skills. Free education will not be enough. The white paper will need to set out a system of maintenance support for employed low paid workers to participate in part-time adult further education to relieve the necessity from taking extra shifts and overtime.

  1. Combined efforts of colleges and universities

Up-skilling and re-skilling to optimise employment levels is required at all levels delivered by all types of regulated providers. We need to harness the expertise of the entire sector, including HE and Universities, to develop and deliver short and long training and retraining courses, linked to the needs of the labour market.

  1. A mental health crisis

The country was facing a mental health crisis before the pandemic, but the extended period of lockdown has increased the number of people at risk of mental ill health. The post-16 white paper should describe how the mental health needs of all students can be met and set out the training and retraining opportunities to increase the supply of peer support workers, employment specialists and care navigators.

  1. Making learning from home more sustainable

If we continue to plan on the basis that learning from home becomes a necessity and part of the new normal, government needs to ensure that every student has appropriate access to digital services and internet connections, and that educators are trained to deliver on-line content. The white paper should also outline the support to be given to students to help them make the most of this new online interactive learning experience.

  1. Further education: helpful but not squeezed

Further education can help the government to meet the short-term challenges caused by the pandemic, and longer-term recovery in growth and employment. But to do so, the FE sector must not be squeezed at a time a certain amount of fiscal consolidation by funding for schools and universities.

Read the full ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion paper here.

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