Here is how the IfATE would deliver on the Skills Bill

29 Jul 2021, 12:32

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has developed an ‘Employer Centred, Future Facing’ strategy to go with the Skills Bill, writes Jennifer Coupland

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is a fantastic endorsement of the employer-led approach to identifying what training is needed to plug the nation’s skills gaps.

Employers know what works, and putting them at the very heart of developing apprenticeships has made a big difference to the end product that eventually helps set learners on a path to successful careers.

The Bill would enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to put employers at the centre of a unified skills system that works better for everyone, setting standards for all technical qualifications as well as apprenticeships.

As the Bill is making its way through Parliament, we are thinking about how the Institute should deliver on the proposals.

‘Three key themes to our strategy’

In particular, we are looking at how we gather and act on insights and intelligence from the thousands of large and small employers who voluntarily guide our work.

We know employer time is precious, so it’s vitally important that we make the best possible use of it.

We are also focused on how to make sure that opportunities for progression, right across technical education from entry up to postgraduate level, are made clearer than ever before through our occupational maps.

Finally, we are looking at how we will go about securing continuous improvement, constantly striving to refine how we work with everyone who cares about skills development and welcoming all ideas for how to do this.

These three key themes form the basis of our “Employer Centred – Future Facing” strategy for the next three years.

Subject to the passage of the Bill, the Institute would be responsible for approving most post-16 technical qualifications, creating a unique opportunity to unify the skills landscape.

A guiding principle would be whether employers feel these are relevant and needed.

For example, we would want to be confident that our approval of a classic car repair qualification would serve the sector’s needs and make a candidate more attractive for long-term employment.

‘Action will be taken where qualifications no longer benefit’

The Bill also proposes that we should conduct regular reviews of approved technical qualifications, which is something we already do for apprenticeships.

This could mean working with an awarding organisation to improve the qualification or, in other circumstances, withdrawing approval.

We would only take action if it was clear that qualifications no longer benefitted employers and learners.

Another aim is to prevent unwanted proliferation which brings confusion and complexity to the landscape.

The Bill proposes a new power for us to pause approval of certain qualifications. This is known as a moratorium and could be applied at a particular level, sector or type of qualification.

‘Ofqual and the IfATE will complement each other’

Finally, the Bill anticipates cementing the close working relationship we enjoy with Ofqual.

Ofqual has done a huge amount of great work with us to date, on everything from external quality assurance for apprenticeships, to T Levels, and for the rollout of higher technical qualifications.

Ofqual and the Institute have unique strengths, the combination of Ofqual’s regulation of qualifications and the Institute’s employer-facing expertise is entirely complementary and should benefit the sector for many years to come.

These are exciting times and we have come a long way since the Institute launched in 2017 – initially just to embed the employer voice across apprenticeships.

It is great news that this Bill will build on our successful experiences so far and we are incredibly grateful to our growing army of supportive employers for making this possible.

The dedication and expertise of further and higher education providers, awarding organisations, and learner representatives will also remain vitally important to us in the months and years ahead.

We look forward to harnessing all this goodwill to ensure our country gets the world-class training it needs – so we can keep pace with digital innovation, adapt to Brexit, and support economic recovery from Covid-19 in a positive and environmentally sustainable way.

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  1. Rob Smith

    We really need a quick way to plug the gaps that Frameworks to Standards has created. As a General FE college dealing only with Construction the disappearance of a number of Frameworks has left industry unable to qualify Apprentices or opting for an Apprenticeship Standard that doesn’t fully suit the occupation. Hopefully this will go some way towards improving this situation!

  2. Colin Leighfield

    These are the right objectives, but IfATE performance to date is woefully short of broadly engaging the businesses that employ most people in our diverse manufacturing economy. The current strategy of throwing money at SMEs to encourage them to take on apprentices, which is where the real need and opportunities lie, is failing and will continue to do so because the current approach is inappropriate to many of them and there is absolutely no certainty of provider support even where a standard is identified. You are failing to recognise or support the foundational importance of Level 2 to probably the majority of manufacturing businesses. It is the starting point for many school leavers and other new starters. It is also for many of them the essential platform for further achievement. As currently designed and delivered, Apprenticeship Levy has made it less likely than before that new apprenticeships will be created in the areas where it should matter most. At that level, it is largely not fit for purpose. The fundamental failings that previously existed in the rightly abandoned EITB Levy are being repeated, lessons have not been learned.