At the beginning of December the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, published his draft Skills for Londoners strategy. The position of the Mayor is becoming particularly important for London FE because responsibility for our Adult Education Budget passes to him from 2019. Devolution and the draft strategy provide a new opportunity to address an issue that has plagued the national skills system if London is willing to turn what could otherwise be little different from its predecessors in to something truly different.
At the launch of the draft strategy, employers took the opportunity to repeat their oft made complaint that vocational qualifications and Apprenticeship Standards fail to meet their requirements and that there are too many of them. The present system, now underpinned by structures in the Institute of Apprenticeships, has a limited number of employers designing Apprenticeship Standards and qualifications which other businesses criticise as being restrictive and irrelevant to their needs. These criticisms are compounded as more qualifications/Standards are devised to fill the gaps identified creating a proliferation of outcomes which employers claim they cannot understand. Providers then have the unenviable task of devising a curriculum to match the qualifications/Standards, the needs of individual employers, the interests of students and, crucially, funding and inspection requirements. These forces can seldom be fully aligned and so the provider is faced with employers whose requirements they cannot fulfil because they are unable to provide subsidised training that meets their real needs or qualifications which are of little interest to individual students.
In addressing this anew we must set aside the obvious contradiction that it is impossible to meet everybody’s individual needs and at the same time limit the number of options available to them, as well as a frustration that practitioners have been increasingly marginalised in national policy making. A new skills strategy must give proper recognition to the experience colleges have in responding to the requirements of employers, which, for good reason, are often varying and inconsistent, and the individual learning needs of students, Apprentices and other employees. No other part of the skills system sees the issues from all of these perspectives and this experience must now be properly embraced in the policy-making process.
A welcome initiative in the draft strategy is the proposal for the ‘Mayor’s Good Work Standard’ to encourage businesses to engage more fully with the skills system. The standard, along with the opportunities devolution provides to shape new ways of working, should be used to involve London’s businesses, FE colleges and government in a genuine partnership to co-design a skills system, along with qualifications, Apprenticeship standards and outcomes, that reflect this complex network of needs and demands rather than the often simplistic view of a small number of large employers. Providers can inform employers about how their individual needs can be given a wider base that is more likely to meet the requirements of their wider sector and how they can be made more engaging to students and so provide more individuals ready for work in that sector. Employers can then work with providers in designing a curriculum which ensures the skills they require are properly reflected and that real-life experience of work encourages increased participation.
The existing national systems have failed to recognise and establish this full-partnership approach. The principle of devolution and the interest and commitment of the Mayor of London provides a new opportunity to explore how it might work to benefit London's businesses and residents. London Capital Colleges and the Collab Group stand ready to play their role in seizing this opportunity.