Business groups give initial welcome to PM’s plans to revolutionise skills agenda

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Business groups have given a cautious welcome to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to “fix” the country’s skills system.

Mr Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic had exposed the “shortcomings” of the UK’s educational system and made a pledge to ensure there was “life-long” skills retraining opportunities.

The Prime Minister said there was a “shortage” of “crucial skills” in the UK and said there was too heavy a reliance on foreign workers for skilled and technical roles.

He said the Government would end the “bogus distinction” between further education and higher education in expanding the ability to get student loans. He also said that apprenticeships would be “portable” so they can move between employers.

He said: “We can’t save every job but what we can do is give everyone the skills to find new and better jobs.”

Reacting to the announcement, British Chambers of Commerce head of people policy Jane Gratton said: “The Government has listened to Chambers and taken an important step toward a more agile adult skills system in the wake of the pandemic. Our 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.”

Federation of Small Businesses chair Mike Cherry said: “The pandemic has changed our economy, and it’s only right that how people gain access to life-changing education also changes to adapt to the new economic landscape we now face in the coming months and years. And small businesses are inextricably linked to job creation, which is why these announcements are so important.

“However for this system to work it is vital that it’s co-designed with smaller businesses front and centre. Small businesses have long been crying out for enhanced technical skills and the much welcomed fully sponsored college courses for adults without an a level or equivalent, will need to reflect the major skills shortages in the resident labour market.

“The announcement of a lifetime skills learning guarantee could be game changing as will making it easier to access government backed finance for FE courses.”

Roger Marsh, chair of the NP11 group of LEPs in the North, said: “The ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ announced today by the Prime Minister is a truly welcome announcement for the North. As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic and look towards a future beyond, having a skilled workforce and an effective system for skills development that meets the changing needs of our regional economy will be vital for success.

“Getting the skills system right provides an opportunity to make a significant impact, boosting productivity across the UK and helping people into better, more fulfilling jobs.”

Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive for the National Centre for Universities and Business, said: “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction for both employees and employers alike. New measures to transform the training and skills system and to prepare workers for a post-Covid economy are urgently needed, and we are pleased that the Prime Minister has acknowledged this in his speech today.

“Equally significant from the Prime Minister was the importance of giving further flexibility to learners. It was announced today that higher education loans will be made more flexible to allow adults to space out study across their lifetimes, allowing them to retrain for new careers as the economy changed.”


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