Employer representative bodies are being asked by government to step forward and lead pilots for new local skills improvement plans (LSIP).
First mooted in the FE white paper, the plans will aim to make colleges to align the courses they offer to local employers’ needs.
They are hoped to address concerns that employers do not currently have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their locality and struggle to find staff to fill their skills gaps.
Keith Smith, the director for post-16 strategy at the Department for Education, told an FE Week webcast last month that new legislation is being worked on to enable the education secretary to intervene where colleges refuse to deliver courses decided through LSIPs.
Led by “established employer representative bodies”, such as chambers of commerce, the plans will be piloted in six to eight trailblazer areas this year, backed with £4 million of revenue funding. The funding must be spent by the end of March 2022.
In application guidance published today, the Department for Education said the plans will “set out the key changes needed to make technical skills training more responsive to employers’ skills needs within a local area”.
They should be created in collaboration with colleges and training providers, with employers “setting out a credible and evidence-based assessment of their skills needs, to which providers will be empowered to respond”.
“The plans will help ensure provision is more responsive to emerging and changing skills needs and being locally driven, can be tailored to the challenges and opportunities most relevant to the area,” the guidance added.
In the longer-term, the government hopes LSIPs will “support and complement” its reforms to the FE funding system, which will give providers “more autonomy to use government funding to meet the skills needs of local employers”.
“In return”, the DfE adds, “we will reform the accountability system to focus less on process and more on the effectiveness of provider performance and the outcomes they achieve”.
By taking a more outcome-focused approach, providers “will be incentivised to continually review their provision to ensure it leads to meaningful employment for their learners, scaling back where there is an oversupply of provision and expanding other areas in line with agreed LSIP priorities”, the department continues.
The plans will be put on a statutory footing and DfE promises to “develop an accountability structure for local areas to ensure that providers are engaging in the process and contributing to actions they have agreed”.
Expressions of interest are being sought from today up until May 25. Bids must be submitted by employer representative groups via email to Skills.Accelerator@education.gov.uk.
The DfE said it does not consider mayoral combined authorities, local enterprise partnerships and skills advisory panels to be business representative organisations so they are not eligible.
The LSIPs will be piloted alongside a new £65 million Strategic Development Fund, which also opened for bids today.
Both pilots make up what the DfE is now calling a “skills accelerator” programme.