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Position statement two: Training and upskilling

Position statement: training and upskilling.

The shift in the UK economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantial. Key industries have undergone a profound period of disruption, and the lingering effects of the pandemic will persist for years to come.

Collab Group recently published a report looking at how further education colleges can support economic recovery efforts and get people back into work. One of these areas, and the focus of this position statement, is around the unique capabilities of colleges to equip people with new skills through retraining and upskilling programmes.

Colleges are uniquely placed to deliver a range of training interventions including short "taster" courses, training geared towards relevant growth sectors, Kickstart placements and apprenticeships as well as providing core digital, English and maths skills.

There are, however, several issues with the existing system that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. These include the need to radically compress the time in which courses are delivered and the need to align funding with high priority skills and occupational clusters. The Government has now announced the qualifications that will be made available as part of its lifetime skills guarantee. These new flexibilities are welcome, but with significant sectors excluded from the approved course list, it is evident that much more will need to be done.

An element that constrains the current system is the time that it takes to train someone to occupational competency. For example, becoming a fully qualified Bricklayer can take approximately two years. However, in areas, like bricklaying, where there are evident skills gaps, there is a clear rationale to look to innovative curriculum models that compress that time it takes to certify an individual. Ensuring, rigorous quality standards will be crucial, but we feel that with additional support, colleges could be well placed to adapt their delivery models to focus on certifying people and allowing them to re-join the labour market more quickly.

So much of the traditional funding system is geared towards the completion of full qualifications. In some cases, full qualifications will be needed. But in other cases, modular provision may be more valuable where individuals have recognised, and accreditable transferable skills but need to adapt or update their skills to fit a new context.

We have also identified a growing need for flexibility to support the funding of licence to practice qualifications in vital economic sectors. In the construction sector, the mandatory CSCS, health and safety certification is not funded as part of the occupational accreditation process that enables workers to access construction sites. In the tech sector, specialist product accreditations like Cisco, SAP and Oracle are also not funded. Additionally, there are pertinent examples of licence to practice qualifications include logistics qualifications for heavy and large goods vehicles as well as security qualifications where funding models should be reviewed. Over the short term, we think that there is a clear case for temporary flexibility to align funding with these kinds of high demand occupational training accreditations. These flexibilities may not need to be a permanent fixture of the funding system but could give a short-medium term boost to the availability of high demand training programmes.

We also see the role that colleges can play in supporting work-based learning is critically important. The Government's Kickstart programme will be crucial in this respect. Importantly though, Kickstart placements need to allow individuals to progress on to new learning, training or employment opportunities. This is where the link between kickstart and apprenticeships is vitally important. The apprenticeship market has taken a real hit over the last year, but ensuring that employers can ramp up their apprenticeship placements in 2021 will be necessary. A positive aspect of the Government's economic response to the pandemic has been the introduction of new incentive payments for employers who take on a new apprentice. The incentives are currently scheduled to run until 31st January 2021, but with so much uncertainty and disruption that is sure to persist well beyond the new year, we think that there is a strong case to extend these incentives up until the middle of next year.

Alone, these efforts will not be a panacea, but they form part of a concerted approach to put skills and colleges at the heart of efforts to revitalise the UK economy in 2021 and beyond. By ensuring that colleges can focus on funded provision that is flexible and centred around the needs of the real economy, we stand a better chance of seeing employment increased, and the benefits of an equitable recovery realised.

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