regular update from John Bridge OBE DL

Positively the government have listened to Chambers and taken an important step toward a more agile adult skills system in the wake of the pandemic. The Chamber Workplace Training and Development Commission has found that employers need access to bite-sized accredited learning that enables adults to be quickly up-skilled and re-skilled for new opportunities.

Apprenticeships will remain crucial to solving the skills crisis and employers need support to recruit and retain apprentices throughout the pandemic as cashflow restrictions force firms to make difficult choices. Over time, we still need to see greater flexibility in how the apprenticeship levy can be used.

The government’s renewed focus on FE, greater investment in technical and digital skills and a more flexible skills system must go hand in hand with high quality local delivery that responds quickly to the growth aspirations of business.

The Prime Minister yesterday set out plans to transform the training and skills system, making it fit for the 21st century economy, and helping the country build back better from coronavirus. This includes:

  • Lifetime skills guarantee to give adults the chance to take free college courses valued by employers
  • New entitlement to flexible loans to allow courses to be taken in segments, boosting opportunities to retrain and enhancing the nation’s technical skills
  • PM acting to boost productivity and help country build back better from coronavirus.
Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course - providing them with skills valued by employers, and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them.

This offer will be available from April in England, and will be paid for through the National Skills Fund. A full list of available courses will be set out shortly.
Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future.

These reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities - including over £1.5bn in capital funding. More details will be set out in a further education white paper later this year.

The coronavirus pandemic and changing economy is why the Prime Minister is developing a long-term plan to ensure that, as work changes, people can retrain, upskill and find new well-paid jobs.

The PM's speech can be read here.  

In 2000, over 100,000 people were doing Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, but that has reduced to fewer than 35,000 now. Those doing foundation degrees has declined from 81,000 to 30,000.

As a result, only 10% of adults hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification, compared to 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

The government is committed to making higher education more flexible to facilitate lifelong learning, and to make it easy for adults and young people to break up their study into segments, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and enable more part-time study.

To encourage more people to take technical courses at their local college, they are reforming how people can use their learning allowance and student loan to train and retrain throughout their life.

Earlier this year the government launched its free online Skills Toolkit , helping people train in digital and numeracy skills. This is being expanded to include 63 additional courses.

£2.5 billion is also being made available through the National Skills Fund to help get people working again after Covid, as well as giving those in work the chance to train for higher-skilled, better-paid jobs.

The plan for delivering the flexible lifelong loan entitlement will be in a further education white paper later this year. This will:
  • Set out how it will be made easier for people to study high quality, higher education modules across Further and Higher education, allowing people to choose the length and type of course that is right for them.
  • Ensure that the student finance offer supports individuals to build up to a meaningful HE qualification/degree that will provide the skills individuals need throughout their lives.
  • Set out how to make credit transfer between further and higher education more of a standardised and mainstream feature of our post 18 education system; including making the new Higher Technical Qualifications easy to build on in this way.
  • The government will also consult and bring forward legislation where necessary in this parliament to support this.
Financial incentives are now available for employers taking on newly-recruited apprentices between 1 August 2020 and 31 January 2021: £2,000 for a new apprentice aged under 25, and £1,500 for a new apprentice aged 25 or over.

Reforms have been made to the apprenticeship funding rules to promote flexibility; part-time apprenticeships are possible, off-the-job training can be delivered at any time, in any location and can be adjusted to take into account recognised prior learning. The government is developing further flexible delivery models such as front-loaded training of apprentices and apprenticeships which can take place across a number of placements with employers. These will be particularly suitable in sectors like construction and creative industries where there are more varied employment patterns.

The government will also look again at the Apprenticeship Levy and support large employers to spend surplus levy funds with local employers and businesses in their supply chains in bulk, rather than see their funds expiring.

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Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce

Clifford House • 2 Station Yard • Oakington • CB24 3AH • United Kingdom