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Skills for Jobs White Paper - summary and media coverage

Skills for Jobs White Paper – summary and media coverage

Last week, the government published the long-awaited Skills for Jobs White Paper. Described as FE’s ‘day in the sun’, the paper shines a light on the national training landscape and provides some much-needed reassurance amid the Covid-19 crisis. Rapid changes to our labour market mean that this commitment to financial support for a lifetime of learning is needed now more than ever, particularly to ensure that those most disadvantaged in society have the means and opportunity to secure good, fulfilling work via access to high quality, flexible learning.

The issue of skills and retraining has never been higher on the public agenda so it’s really positive to see such a focus on, and recognition for, the value of technical education, dispelling the notion that only degrees can lead to a good job. There are several key themes in the paper, many of which we are already familiar with as they have already been announced.

The White Paper sets out 35 reforms for the sector which are split into five categories; “employers at the heart of post-16 skills”, “advanced technical and higher technical skills”, “a flexible lifetime guarantee”, “responsive providers supported by effective accountability”, “governance and intervention” and “supporting outstanding teaching”. 

The key measures in the white paper, in the words of the DfE, include:

  • Business groups, including Chambers of Commerce, working alongside colleges to develop tailored skills plans to meet local training needs; supported by a £65 million Strategic Development Fund to put the plans into action and establish new College Business Centres to drive innovation and enhanced collaboration with employers.
  • Giving employers a central role in designing almost all technical courses by 2030, to ensure that the education and training people receive is directly linked to the skills needed for real jobs.
  • Boosting the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications – that provide the skills that many employers say they need and that can lead to higher wages – by introducing newly approved qualifications from September 2022 supported by a government-backed brand and quality mark.
  • Changing the law so that from 2025 people can access flexible student finance so they can train and retrain throughout their lives, supported by funding in 21/22 to test ways to boost access to more modular and flexible learning.
  • Launching a nationwide recruitment campaign to get more talented individuals to teach in further education and investing in high quality professional development including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme.
  • Overhauling the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high quality education and training that meets the needs of employers; and introducing new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve.

A welcome focus on teaching

It is our belief that high-quality teaching is the most important aspect of the learning experience. It is great to see that the whitepaper outlines plans to support colleges and providers to recruit, retrain and develop teaching staff. We were delighted to be referenced in the whitepaper for our work with World Skills:

“We will encourage more organisations with relevant expertise to provide high-quality and evidence-based training and development for teaching staff in the sector. For example, supporting initiatives such as the WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence scheme, developed in partnership with NCFE, where providers and teachers will be able to benefit from a skills and knowledge development programme including peer-to-peer learning and technical masterclasses based on international best practice.”

What has the response been from the FE sector?

The sector has welcomed the paper for shining a light on FE reform but called for the government to deliver sustained and long-term funding for the sector. You can see a list of sector responses on FE News and TES - we’ve included a few below from key figures in FE. You can also read a full article response to the paper from Michael Lemin, Head of Policy at NCFE here.

David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE:

"NCFE welcomes the continued recognition that technical and vocational learning is both central to the future health of the economy, as well as the career and life opportunities of an increasingly broad range of people throughout their lifetimes.

We look forward to continuing our work with government on a variety of reform programmes, where we will play our part in ensuring that the diverse needs of learners are fully understood and met, alongside facilitating the engagement of employers in helping to shape technical and vocational education for the future.

As a particular highlight, it is hugely encouraging to see a focus on investing in further improving the quality of our educators, as it is our belief that our frontline workforce is singularly the most important factor in delivering transformational learning experiences for all of those who engage in technical education.

As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, we remain hopeful that the recognition that further technical education is currently receiving for powering productivity and boosting social mobility, will be backed up by the level of investment that will enable us to create a truly world class technical education system in England."

David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges:

“This is an ambitious package of measures which can deliver a significant shift in how we support the lifelong education and skills needs of more than half the population and ensure that employers have the skilled people they need. With funding over the coming years to match the welcome policy shifts, this should rebalance the education and skills system to make it work for everyone.”

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB):

“The Federation cautiously welcomes the publication of the Skills for Jobs White Paper.

The narrative helps frame a direction of travel for how the skills sector will evolve and need to respond post-Covid, particularly as we build a more dynamic economy based on higher levels of productivity and skills.”

Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee:

"The proposals from the prime minister and department for education mark a sea-change in government thinking on skills. 

It will help address our skills deficit by boosting the accessibility of technical qualifications alongside the lifetime skills guarantee. It meets the needs of businesses in building an employed-led system, working with FE, to design employer qualifications and ensure funding follows employer requirements. It will give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity, through the skills guarantee and easier access to finance. It is good that new funding will be made available in areas where colleges work with employers to transform their skills offering.

Build back better' clearly means building back a skills nation. I am really excited by these plans."

Amanda Melton, chief executive and principal of the Nelson and Colne College Group and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future

“For too long English colleges’ role in the education and training system and in supporting people with the skills they need has been undervalued and underfunded. The clear commitment to bolstering further and technical education means that more people will be able to get the skills they need for good jobs and businesses will plug skills gaps. Colleges are well placed to deliver growth in higher technical education and are ready for the transformation required to keep up with the changing world of work.

It’s been clear from our work over the past two years that the college sector is willing and able to do much more for people, productivity and place – with the right support and investment from government. I know that people right across the sector are keen to continue leading this conversation – ultimately to ensure that we ensure the quality, capability and capacity of English colleges to deliver what we need from them to create a sustainable, fair and prosperous future.”

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, chief executive, WorldSkills UK 

"We welcome the focus on driving up the quality of teaching and training to better prepare young people to meet employer and economic development needs. This is vital as we look towards a skills-led recovery. 

But as the education secretary acknowledges, other major competitor global economies are ahead of us in valuing high quality skills to help drive their competitiveness and productivity.

Our work on international skills benchmarking shows that the UK has been falling behind, so we have to up our game to help businesses better compete and support global trade ambitions.

Driving forward the development of high quality skills to support key sectors will not only help attract more economic inward investment in potential growth areas of the economy, like green tech, digital and advanced manufacturing, but also help create high-quality jobs for the next generation.”

Final thoughts

Upskilling, retraining and lifelong learning has long been a key focus for us at NCFE and it’s fantastic to see that these themes are now under a national spotlight. We feel that FE and Skills are the perfect antidote to the worrying impacts of Covid-19 and we look forward to continuing to work together with government, sector bodies, and providers on the vital reforms which are needed to make a real difference to people’s lives.

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