It has been refreshing to see this whitepaper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth drafted at such a critical time for the UK.
The UK Government’s Department for Education, whilst dealing with a pandemic, job losses and more; still have a focus on addressing gaps in skills and the inherent importance on such strategies for jobs growth.
The landmark reforms, which aim to transform post-16 education have been published this week by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
In my view, post-16 education in the UK is in a critical transition stage. With different cohorts of adults finding themselves needing to upskill, this whitepaper is welcomed.
Firstly, we have adults who have been in the same job for years and have not taken any formal training since employment.
Secondly, there are an increasing number of young adults being out of work and many losing what could be their first or only job.
Thirdly, the traditional groups of ‘left-out learners’, such as those from deprived backgrounds and those who may have complex learning needs and such.
Then of course, there are those in between, who are looking for new skills to make them more employable.
Finally, with the introduction and growth of automation in many businesses; now is the time to concentrate on upskilling and reskilling.
Two buzzwords which seem to be on the lips of many educators. Mine included.
So, what does the whitepaper include and what can educators and businesses be doing to make sure the actions are met?
The whitepaper aims to align courses with what employers need; whilst encouraging the growth of new vocational qualifications which sit between school-leaving and undergraduate level.
Highlights of the new measures are:
- Business groups to work closely with colleges and training institutes to develop skills strategies that meet ‘local’ training needs.
- A £65 million Strategic Development Fund will assist to put these plans into action and to establish innovation and collaboration with employers and industry
- Welcoming employers ‘at the heart of the system’ so that training results in narrowing skills gaps and job opportunities
- Putting employers at the heart of the system so that education and training leads to jobs that can improve productivity and fill skills gaps.
- Providing alternative routes to university with higher-level technical and vocational courses
- Increasing accessibility and flexibility to training
- Reforms on vocational funding to simplify funding
- Giving education providers more autonomy with an ‘effective accountability regime’
- Support excellence in the delivery of education at post-16 level
Whilst the above is just a snapshot of the paper, when we look at a granular level, the whitepaper does have ambitious aims: “Our reforms will deliver the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, as set out in his speech in September 2020. This Government will help everyone to get the skills they need at every stage in their lives.” (Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP Secretary of State for Education).
It is with this in mind, that as educators, we must be fully aware of the aims of the Department of Education – and as an industry, start to align our ambitions with this strategy and recognise the support available to adult learners and be able to signpost accordingly.
For me, there has never been a time in history where collaboration is of the utmost importance. Sharing knowledge and being open to digital disruption is key.
Acknowledging the skills gaps in the UK and beyond, was one of the drivers of the new range of micro-credentials at NCC Education, the Fundamentals Suite.
Looking at impending skills gaps and recognising the need for skills such as Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Data Science, and the Internet of Things has pushed us to home in on these skills and help to work with employers to teach these skills at this critical time and beyond.
Working closely with industry and employers has resulted in an increased awareness of the actual needs of employers and how their needs are constantly changing.
If needs are ever-changing, so are the skills. Moving forward, educators must have their eye on the ball and must work with their qualification delivery to ensure that whilst delivering high-quality learning, that teaching delivery will be ever-changing.
To summarise, this whitepaper is welcome and much needed in the industry. However, educators, employers and industry-alike must always be conscious of changing needs and ever-changing skills.
They must work cohesively to ensure the objectives of this whitepaper are met and learners have the best access to post-16 education that the UK can offer.