Report points at skills system’s six ‘key problems’

Six “key problems” in the skills sector have been identified in a new Labour report called Talent Matters — why England needs a new approach to skills.

The interim report of the party’s skills taskforce — made up of Creative Leadership and Skills Ltd managing director Jacqui Henderson, South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership chair Dr Ann Limb and UnionLearn director Tom Wilson, among others — launched today.

Taskforce chair and Institute of Education director Professor Chris Husbands was at the launch, which took place at London’s Westminster Kingsway College.

He was joined by Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, who said: “Our challenge is to ensure that the skills that people are getting from the non-academic route are aligned to, and keeping pace with, the changes that we see happening in business and industry.

“The world out there is changing at a pace that I don’t think any of us contemplated and one of the central recommendations in this interim report is to ensure that there is that better alignment, so that what is happening at places like this fantastic college is actually keeping pace with what is happening in the real economy and the real world.”

The 20-page report says “problems” include a damaging divide between vocational and academic education; and, low levels of employer involvement in the skills system.

Further problems it identifies are a fragmented education system; the need for a new vision for FE; lack of high quality apprenticeships; and, poor quality advice to navigate the transition between education and work.

“Although governments have often talked of the importance of skills, skills policy has in practice often been created in isolation from industrial policy, with too few connections between education and the labour market,” the report says.

It adds: “Almost every country struggles with the challenge of skills training: there are complexities in drawing together employers, training providers, schools, colleges and universities to create high quality progression pathways, and real challenges in responding to rapidly changing labour markets. We are confident that we must and can do better.”

The report was welcomed by Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, who described it as “thoughtful”.

“We are pleased that the Labour Party has placed what is refers to as the ‘damaging divide between vocational and academic education’ at the heart of its thinking, as we have long argued that those who are successful in both work and life have a balance of theoretical and applied skill, and our education system should reflect this,” she said.

“Today’s report presents a vision where FE colleges, such as those represented by the 157 Group, remain central to the provision of education and training, and recognises the broad and extensive work going on in colleges to develop those in every part of society, including for young people, for those who are employed, and for those who are unemployed or in need of a career change.

“We applaud the report’s emphasis on the importance of further education for adults and for learning throughout life.”

Peter Roberts, chief executive of Leeds City College and chair of the 157 Group, said: “It is important that we concentrate energy on building and developing a system that already performs well for learners and employers.

“The focus in this report on guidance for young people to enable them to make the right decisions in their education is most welcome.

“The 157 Group looks forward to continuing to work closely with the taskforce as the ideas in this interim report are further refined.”


The damaging divide between vocational and academic education

“Successive governments have viewed vocational and academic education in silos, leading to a focus on the latter at the expense of the quality and status of the former.”

Low levels of employer involvement in the skills system

“Many of the problems outlined in this paper, including inadequate access to good work experience and high quality apprenticeships, the weak links between vocational qualifications and the labour market, and the mismatch between supply and demand at local level, stem from the failure to involve employers in the design and delivery of vocational training.”

A fragmented education system

“The focus on competition between schools, colleges and universities, rather than collaboration, and the lack of planned area-wide provision results in reduced opportunities for young people to study high quality vocational education and training alongside their core academic learning.”

The need for a new vision for FE

“A reinvigorated role for FE in the local economy, centred on the delivery of quality education and training to meet the needs of local industry and employers, would provide a significant boost to our skills system. To fulfil this role however, standards of teaching and learning in FE need to be improved.”

The lack of high quality apprenticeships

“Various government reviews — most recently the Richard Review — have highlighted that the apprenticeship ‘brand’ is at risk from the low standard of some apprenticeships, particularly those created in recent years. 

Poor quality advice to navigate the transition between education and work

“Too many vocational qualifications do not provide clear progression routes to work or further study … The need for quality, impartial advice and to equip young people with the tools to make the right choices throughout their education and into employment has therefore, arguably, never been greater.”


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  1. So nothing that has not been known for some time by this and previous governments, but useful sound bites to show that Labour is in touch. How much does the report focus on the failure of the school system to give young people the appropriate English and mathematics skills that employers require at recruitment, rather than bolt it on as part of vocational training to redress what schools continue to fail in providing? With the fall in numbers of young people entering apprenticeships it is also time to do something about providing all young people while still at school appropriate work experience to help them confirm the vocational career path that they want to follow. Schools continue to manage work experience badly in the same two week block of the year that limits the availability of employers. If a government does something about what starts to go wrong at 14-16 first, the rest of the vocational system will easily follow. Apprenticeships need to get back to being for the occupational areas that really requires them. They were never intended for the likes of Starbucks and it is an insult to the system to say that the training required to make coffee and serve basic food is worthy of funding for a years training. Those of us who live in London will recall Mayor Boris grinning as he posed with apprentices in their green aprons as Starbucks drew down yet more public money, all to say that the number of apprentices has increased. To me that story showed just how out of touch government is with promoting quality vocational training that will help boost the economic recovery of this country.

  2. Australia seems to be doing quite well with their vocational training, with VET intregrated into schools as well as being provided by TAFEs and RTOs to school leavers and mature age students. I’m curious, is there a set teaching qualification in the UK system? Australia has the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, which is basically mandatory for anyone wanting to work as a VET trainer.

  3. I also am pleased that the Labour Party has placed what is refers to as the ‘damaging divide between vocational and academic education’ at the heart of its thinking. Finally we are all starting to realise what the education landscape needs to look like if we want to build a highly skilled professional workforce that is competitive in a global market.

    Last year, AAT hosted a roundtable looking at employer attitudes to skills and qualifications and there was a general consensus that businesses need to play a bigger role in skills development. Employer leadership is vital in developing skills and qualifications that are right for business because once this happens; we can begin to give people skills relevant to the job market, boosting our economy.

    The fact that we have an excess of graduates unable to obtain work or obtaining work for which their degrees are not necessary is nothing other than a massive injustice on our youth.

    The six key problem areas are spot on. Independent career advice ought to allow young people to have a firmer understanding of vocational as well as academic options. However there is little chance in the current economic climate to make the necessary investment so we have to think of other ways to highlight various opportunities throughout and this should embrace social media.

    Employer involvement and leadership is crucial so that we can align education and industry to meet demand. The term ‘apprenticeship’ has been tarnished but there are fantastic high quality apprenticeships out there and it’s important that these continue to get the recognition they deserve. It’s time to move forward to address these problem areas, starting from now.