Managing director of NOCN, Graham Hasting-Evans, explains why he thinks a fast-approaching government moratorium on approving qualifications will damage employers’ confidence in the system.
On August 13, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) announced that after the September approval window there will be a “moratorium” on new qualifications for 2015-16.
The thrust of government policy is to improve the quality and validity of apprenticeships and regulated qualifications, ensuring that they meet the needs of employers.
This is supported by the government’s new Productivity Plan, focusing on apprenticeships, professional and technical skills and functional skills.
Key to this is keeping employers on side.
We know employer engagement is difficult, with over 1.5m employers in the UK, so getting a uniform view will never be easy and we need to be pragmatic.
As a sector, I believe that we are broadly in agreement with this policy, committed to making it happen, and working hard towards achieving it.
There are many good qualifications available, but we recognise that life does not stand still.
Employers have new requirements to be matched now.
The national media regularly tells us about growing level two skills gaps in areas such as construction and hospitality, as well as higher level gaps in digital industries and advanced manufacturing.
These gaps can’t be filled with more of the same — our existing training courses, qualifications, and apprenticeships do not address these emerging requirements.
Employers will instead go to where the skills are available, even if this is outside the UK.
For example modern construction and production methods are common in Europe but unfortunately they are not taught in significant numbers here in the UK.
Europe can therefore provide a ready-made workforce to match UK employers’ immediate requirements, but this is a temporary fix.
We need to ensure that we give our learners these new skills through new qualifications and products and these have to be available now, not delayed until 2016/17 when the SFA lifts its moratorium.
Serious awarding organisations are already working with employers to develop new qualifications, I know we are.
I’m also sure that many of these new employer-focused qualifications will be ready before September 2016.
In doing this we recognise that industry’s needs do not neatly fit ‘academic’ years and government departmental elongated planning cycles.
Employers tend to want people when they want them.
Let’s be very clear here that the moratorium risks damaging employers’ confidence in the system and puts back the very thing the government is trying to encourage.
The adult skills budget is being cut dramatically and this budget is driven in part by the approval of qualifications.
We can only assume that is the reason for the moratorium, as there is no sound economic or policy justification for such action.
Stopping the launch of qualifications that employers need flies in the face of government policy and puts the breaks on innovation.
Neither is it a coherent way to manage a budget.
The SFA should decouple control of the budget from the approval of qualifications and focus instead on the types of courses that they want to fund, matching funding to skills priorities to improve productivity.