The Lifelong Education Commission welcomes today’s report by the Labour Party’s Council of Skills Advisers. Giving growth and productivity the jump-start they urgently need means marshalling all the available forces to boost advanced learning and upskilling across the UK. Skills are due an upgrade in every part of the workforce, at all ages and career stages, in all sectors, in every part of the country.
We are pleased to see an enhanced focus on the role of Further Education, and we strongly support the report’s recommendation for closer collaboration and integration between Further and Higher Education providers. We also welcome the recognition that the opportunity for more learning and upskilling should be a lifelong priority within the workplace, and we urge politicians of all parties to give businesses the support they need to free up their workers for regular ‘on-the-job’ skills improvement.
Introducing a skills tax credit and transforming the apprenticeship levy into an “apprenticeship and learning levy”, are vital parts of this process. But we encourage policymakers to be bolder and go further, recrafting them into flexible tools tied to a coherent place-based industrial strategy. The funds they raise must be targeted towards localities with ‘skills cold spots’ and sectors with specific, specialised skills needs. We are concerned that rebalancing levy support away from SMEs and towards 16–25-year-olds risks worsening skills deficits in places and sectors without a large-scale employer presence, and neglects mid-to-late-career workers who would benefit from retraining and reskilling support.
We welcome the recommendation to devolve decision-making and spending to the regional and sub-regional level. This creates an opportunity to simplify the current fragmented landscape of skills funding, where local authorities and businesses compete to access multiple small-scale ‘pots’ of targeted funds that prevent large-scale, long-term regional strategic investment. As part of this, we would encourage policymakers to devolve the Skills Taskforce initiative to the regional level as well, to ensure the UK’s regions have greater say in determining their future economic direction.
We are pleased to see the return of Individual Learning Accounts and Learning and Skills Passports as a way for learners to carry forward a clear, transparent portfolio of skills and qualifications throughout their upskilling journey. The aim to smooth the path for the lifelong learner must sit at the heart of all such partnerships between businesses, government, and education providers. Maintenance support needs to be made available to learners beyond 16–19-year-olds, and more work is needed to ensure that the qualifications learners accrue are universally recognised wherever their learning trajectory takes them.
Finally, we endorse the report’s ambition to reform the careers service from school age to adult learning. Place-based, sector-specific Careers Hubs with partnerships to local businesses and education providers are vital to giving local learners the guidance and mentorship they need. But we are more hesitant about the plans to fuse the national all-age Information and Guidance service with the functions of Jobcentre Plus. Most people in need of careers advice are in work already, and not in receipt of benefits. National careers service provision should be kept strictly separate to reflect this.
Overall, this is a vital report at a crucial time for the UK economy, and we are encouraged by the strong pro-skills message it sends to businesses and workers, education providers and learners across the UK. Skills are the key component in bringing growth back to the UK, and we hope policymakers will give this report the serious attention it deserves.