The government is deploying a solutions-as-you-go approach, instead of a proper national network for employment and training, writes Kirstie Donnelly

It certainly feels like the government is waking up to the potential of technical and skills-based education. But dig underneath the surface of these announcements and they feel slightly unambitious and limited in their scope and timing.

As the furlough scheme draws to a close, we’ve seen interventions from the chancellor announcing a new jobs support programme, swiftly followed by the prime minister setting out his skills vision ̶ a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to give adults the chance to take free college courses “valued by employers”.

Not forgetting the Job Entry Targeted Support programme announcement this week, which, although it may not be “new news”, is still a welcome step in the right direction. It also demonstrates that jobs, FE and skills appear to be front of mind when it comes to current policy priorities ̶ and rightly so!

But let’s take a magnifying glass to the proposals. Our main questions are as follows:

Why are we only offering free training to those without a level 3 qualification when we know that people are being made redundant across many industries and at all levels?

And why is the emphasis still only on bricks and mortar-based learning, when what is needed now is a hybrid model of flexible, digitally enabled training that can be accessed by as many people as possible?

We have always championed the need for educators and employers to work closer together to be better aligned to local and national labour market needs. Working with organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce would help with this.

But trying to import another country’s education system wholesale, such as Germany’s in particular (because it has been developed to tackle different skills needs and operates in an entirely different ecosystem) is not the answer.

Trying to import another country’s education system wholesale, such as Germany’s, is not the answer

The government would do just as well to look to the Singapore system that has focused on short, sharp training interventions funded by a skills credit to remain employable.

In our submission to the government’s comprehensive spending review, which we created in partnership with The Prince’s Trust, City of London and FutureLearn, we set out our vision for how the government can better deploy skills-funding in a detailed plan to reskill Britain in the face of an uncertain future.

We put forward a proposal for £60 million to be invested over three years for a national network of employment and training hubs.

These would provide a “shop window for skills” by making employment and re-employment pathways more visible and accessible, delivering skills bridges from one industry to another and starting to convene a skills system that is less fragmented and importantly augments and quality-marks existing local provision.

And by bringing together job seekers, employers, colleges, training providers and local government in one space, the hubs will reflect regional needs – and support the government’s flagship ambition to “level up” regions and develop the “skills valued by employers”.

Unlike the current piecemeal solutions-as-you-go strategy, these hubs would provide a more permanent, regional-led solution and address unemployment, skills shortages and productivity issues.

We also put forward a more effective reallocation of the £1 billion investment from planned government funding, backed up by devolved adult education budget allocations. This would ensure all post-compulsory education adults have access to adult training allowance loans, to help meet employer and labour market demands.

With unemployment set to rise above four million by the end of year and a workforce already grappling with the opportunities and challenges of AI, automation and Brexit, we need a clear vision for lifelong learning that is focused on helping people to identify their skills and develop new, industry-relevant ones throughout their working lives.

April feels far too long to wait for action ̶ this is our “act now” moment. We are urging the government to seize this unique opportunity to think differently and create radical yet long-lasting change that will allow the FE and skills sector to play the role it is capable of.