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NOCN’S immediate action plan for world-beating skills

NOCN’S immediate action plan for world-beating skills

By Graham Hasting-Evans Managing Director, NOCN Group. 

Technology and the internet have revolutionised the global economy. If we are to succeed and continue to enjoy a very good standard of living we must be able to provide goods and services that are some of the best in the world. And we have to be able to do that efficiently and competitively. To do that we need a very skilled workforce.

The skills of our workforce in general are lower than our competitors. That is not to say we do not have some very excellent people, just not enough of them. Our productivity is 30% below other major economies.

At the recent CBI Conference there was a unanimous voice from employers, CBI and the OECD that the UK must urgently address the productivity gap; recognising that skills, including digital skills, are the key.

The UK’s skills and productivity problems are systemic. Brexit is not the trigger for these problems, it brings it into focus. Over the last twenty years a series of well-intentioned policy reforms have failed during implementation. Resulting in frustration and cynicism. People are saying “its going to fail like ‘diplomas’ did”.

We have an academic system which is excellent, but our skills development system is characterised by a lack of consistency and stability. A-Levels are stable - skills qualifications have not been. Skills Ministers are not in office long enough to make a real impact. The Wolfe, Richard and Sainsbury’s Reports have all resulted in the Reform we are trying to implement. This aims to improve, in all sectors, the quality of our apprenticeships and technical education (T-Levels). The policy direction is right. However, Reform is seen by many as separate initiatives. They are not. They are the biggest Reform in a generation. Bigger than other major projects like HS2, Olympics and Nuclear Power. Unfortunately, we haven’t got to grips with the scale of it, but we must. Our economy will not succeed if we have yet another failed initiative. This Reform must work despite the substantial ‘implementation difficulties’ we currently face.

Progress has been far too slow. Even now the Government is planning over the next 6 years to only implement L3 T-Levels, not L2 to L7. We must rapidly step-up the pace – productivity must be addressed in 3 years NOT 6 to 10 years. The five areas we need to make urgent progress on are:

1. Transferring ownership for the Reform from Government to industry and the employers, through the Institute for Apprenticeships; fully set up the Institute, staffed with people from industry;

2. Upskill the existing workforce. Adult education, embracing digital skills, is critical;

3. Produce career pathway maps across all sectors so we are clear what apprenticeships and T-Levels are needed, how they support and integrate with each, and what are the priorities;

4. Streamline the development process and integrate the target for 30% productivity improvement into Trailblazers and T-Levels; and

5. Step up communications to employers, young people, parents and those in the workforce.

If employers, training institutes (public and private), and assessment and awarding organisations all pull together, we can make this work, fixing our skills problem and creating a winning approach which is stable; establishing a robust apprenticeship system with integrated T-Levels, respected by all and as world beating as our A-Levels and Higher Education.

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