On 23rd January Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a new, more interventionist, industrial strategy, designed to boost the post-Brexit UK economy.
The plan was published in a 132 page Green Paper, ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’.
Part of the plan involves an overhaul of the vocational/technical skills and education system.
The government has identified 6 key areas that need to be improved upon in order to address skills shortages in the workforce. I will present a brief overview of the 6 areas below.
Point five, which addresses the need for high quality careers information and advice, is something which we feel particularly passionate about here at CASCAID, and it is great news to see the issue being addressed at governmental level.
The 6 key areas are:
- Basic Skills – England is the only OECD country where 16-24 years olds do not have higher numeracy or literacy skills than 55-64 year olds. Within the next 20 years, it is expected that 90% of all jobs will require a good level of digital proficiency – currently 23% of adults lack the most basic digital skills.
- Shortage of non-graduate high-skilled technicians – Currently, only 10% of the adult population hold a technical/vocational qualification as their highest qualification level, which places us a poor 16th amongst OECD countries. The pathways between the current technical qualifications are very unclear and confused.
- Shortage of STEM skills – Nearly a half of all businesses report a shortage of STEM graduates as being a key factor in being unable to recruit the right staff.
- Sector Skills Shortages – There are big and damaging skills shortages which are specific to certain sectors – not just STEM related e.g. the nuclear industry or construction.
- Providing informed choices about education and career options – The quality of careers advice, particularly for disadvantaged students, is a big problem. Students, parents and employers need to be able to make informed and confident decisions about education and careers – something we fully understand here at CASCAID.
- Lifelong Learning – With technology constantly changing at an ever increasing pace, it is vital that people receive lifelong learning throughout their careers – but in reality the opposite is actually happening – people are receiving less training over the course of their working lives.
The government’s action plan states the following approaches to dealing with these 6 key areas:
The Government’s Approach
- Basic Skills – The government will use FE colleges to boost the teaching of English and Maths – they will become centres of excellence, with particular focus on promoting English and Maths skills for disadvantaged students. Students who have substantial skills gaps at 16 will be able to undertake a ‘transition year’ in which they will learn the basic skills they need to become employed and to develop achievable career plans.
- Shortage of non-graduate high-skilled technicians – The government are going to introduce a new system of technical education which sits alongside the academic path. It will be aimed at students who do not take A levels or go to university. The new technical education system will incorporate the following:
- High quality technical education providers with a high quality of teaching
- High quality vocational routes, with a clear simple framework that enables progression through different skills levels and into skilled employment
- New Institutes of Technology in all regions – these will specialise in technical disciplines (such as STEM or Construction) at levels 3, 4, 5 (A level to just below full degree level). The focus will be on the needs of local employers.
- Post-16 education will need to be more demanding so that people can develop the skills crucial to their future and the economy. FE students currently receive less than 17 hours per week tuition time, compared to 27 hours in school pre 16.
- A technical course finding process similar to UCAS will be created to make vocational education easier to understand and get into.
- Addressing STEM shortages – One of the biggest contributors to the shortage of STEM skills is the take up of advanced mathematics qualifications – such as A level Mathematics. Whilst A level Mathematics is the most popular A level, this picture is subject to huge regional and gender variation. The government will consider how to broaden the take-up higher level mathematics qualifications throughout the country.
- Identifying and addressing sector-specific skills gaps – Huge skills shortages have been identified within various industries, such as nuclear, construction, rail and digital. At the moment it is unclear exactly what the government will do to address these gaps but they are promising to work towards a ‘single, authoritative view of the gaps faced by the UK now and in the future’. So, that’s a bit vague at the moment.
- Higher quality careers information and advice – The Green Paper states that, ‘Our improved education and skills system must be supported by high-quality career provision’. In order to address this issue, the government is reviewing the current careers offer for people of all ages and will publish a ‘comprehensive strategy’ later his year for careers information, advice and guidance. Here at CASCAID, we await this comprehensive strategy with great interest.
- Testing new approaches to lifelong learning – There are many barriers which can prevent people from engaging in lifelong learning e.g. family commitments, busy work schedule, lack of local access etc. The government will promote opportunities to retrain, including the use of ‘community learning centres’, and also consider the introduction of maintenance loans for higher level technical education. The government also appreciate the importance of bringing together the information on training opportunities, costs and government support, in order to increase the take-up of skills training – a one stop lifelong learning information hub.