Leaders of training providers and colleges have announced they are joining forces to campaign on “key policy issues” and better funding ahead of the next general election.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers along with the Association of Colleges and awarding giant City and Guilds have said the ‘Future Skills Coalition’ has been formed to counter ten years of underinvestment with “a ten-year commitment to sustain skills for future growth and productivity”.
It comes days after a series of emergency announcements – and the biggest economic U-turn in history – from the new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, pointing towards spending cuts across government departments. Hunt told the House of Commons on Monday that “decisions of eye-watering difficulty” were needed to stabilise the economy.
On the ground, AELP’s and AoC’s respective memberships are better known as competitors than compatriots.
However, AELP’s chief executive, Jane Hickie (pictured above left), said the challenges facing the sector require a united response: “The whole FE sector is raring to support a skills agenda which will put more people into sustainable employment and advance economic growth – but we need more investment and a joined-up policy approach to get there. Together we will always achieve more than we can achieve alone.”
Branding and governance arrangements between the organisations are yet to be agreed, however FE Week understands that three main campaign aims have been signed off: to call for a national strategy for inclusive growth, a right to lifelong learning and effective funding.
City and Guilds chief executive Kirstie Donnelly (pictured above right) said the current state of the skills system requires “disparate” organisations to work together: “The English skills system continues to compare poorly to other OECD nations and investment in adult education has collapsed by 50 per cent over the past decade. It should come as no surprise that employers are crying out for skilled people to fill millions of empty jobs.
“[We are] bringing the disparate organisations that can affect change together in a vitally important movement.”
The coalition’s workplan includes a series of events over the course of this academic year to bring together employers, learners and providers. Each organisation’s public affairs leads will work together on a joint lobbying strategy for next year’s party conferences and the next general election.
David Hughes (pictured above centre), chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The further education sector is united in its call for better investment in technical education and training across people’s lifetimes. We need the government to grasp this opportunity to build a system where employers and educators are singing from the same hymn sheet.”
The bosses of both provider representative organisations have made efforts to work closer together recently.
At the AELP’s national conference in June, the Hughes gave a speech listing issues he thought colleges and training providers could work together on. This included staff recruitment, English and maths policy, apprenticeship funding rates, Multiply delivery, green skills and AEB devolution. “Let’s stop the cat fighting going on and let’s work on those things together,” he said at the time.
AELP’s Jane Hickie agreed. Writing in FE Week in July, Hickie argued that “strengthening the relationship between AoC, adult education provider HOLEX and AELP will be good for the whole sector.”
Additional partner organisations, such as adult education provider network HOLEX, will be invited to register their interest in joining the coalition.