The Skills Commission added the 68-page Guide to the Skills System to its growing library of sector-related reports as it was launched at the House of Lords yesterday. Commission co-chair Dame Ruth Silver outlines why the guide was needed and what she hopes it will achieve.

The Guide to the Skills System has come from a place of frustration.

Frustration at a complex system, frustration from misrepresentations in media and Parliament, frustration of going around in circles, repeating past policy mistakes time and again, and being surprised when the same problems occur.

The Skills Commission over the course of its 10 years of thinking about vocational education and training must have heard thousands of times: ‘This is very complex’, ‘I don’t understand it’ or ‘why isn’t there a guide to this?’

We’ve spent ample time wondering why skills doesn’t get the political attention it deserves. Those in the system understand that skills is the adaptive layer, it twists and turns serving multiple economic and social needs. This makes it difficult to pin down and put neatly in a box. But this is also its strength and it is our responsibility as a sector to take charge and tell people what it is we do and why we do it so well.

The Skills Commission has taken the lead on this matter. We wanted to shed light on the skills system, especially for those who have little experience of the sector, yet are responsible for its survival.

There is a lack of political consensus around skills, leading to frequent restructure, rebrand and reform — this creates a huge amount of instability and volatility in the sector making long term development difficult.

Skills hold the answers to many of the challenges we face — low productivity, skills shortages in growth areas, decreasing social mobility, greater inequality in pay

If ministers, civil servants, journalists, MPs and Peers understand the system a little better, it is feasible that they will see the value skills bring to economic and social life.

Our ultimate goal is that by publishing this essential guide, this will lead to greater, more confident engagement with the skills system, using it where it works well and supporting it where there is need for improvement.

Skills hold the answers to many of the challenges we face — low productivity, skills shortages in growth areas, decreasing social mobility, greater inequality in pay — but in order to properly mobilise it, we need to understand the dynamics and interdependencies in the system and harness them for our advantage.

The Guide to the Skills System does just this. It provides an introduction to those new to the policy area and a refresher for those who feel a bit rusty.

We’ve spoken to numerous experts from across the system, had eyebrows raised as we tried to ‘define’ skills, and eyes widen as we explained our mammoth task.

But, we’ve done it – a bite-sized, easy to read and understand Guide to the Skills System.

We’ve included: a short history of skills looking at past skills policies and comparing key bodies, funding structures and regulators; an overview of the skills system with maps and infographics on qualifications, funding, learner numbers, plus more; and a policy review of the last five years from 2010-15 under the Coalition Government.

In addition to this, we’ve offered six key messages for policymakers over the course of the next parliament. If heeded, this framework should help produce policy that bring us closer to a high quality and forward looking world class skills system.

We’ve asked policymakers to ensure stability in the system; adopt greater systems thinking; improve the policy process; enhance quality and confidence; boost employer engagement; and, ensure fair and sustainable funding.

Crucially, we want to encourage policymakers to better conceptualise the skills system. The tools are here, right in this guide. Grab it, challenge it, use it and support it.

Instability, and a lack of systems thinking, has hindered the development of a coherent system in the past.

A better understanding of the components and dynamics of the system, along with its many successes, can aid the creation of a world leading further education and skills system in the future.