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One system for post-16 education

What is the best way to boost national productivity? Through investment in skills and a unified approach to career pathways, says NOCN.

Brexit may be two or three years away, but Britain's competitors aren't waiting around - they are improving their skills at an international level all the time. So now, more than ever, we too need to prepare our industries and workforces, both for Brexit and global competition. Now is not the time to cut investment in skills.

Clearly the Government is committed to collecting the Apprenticeship Levy from employers from the beginning of the next tax year, April 2017. And while we can all see there's a lot of work left to do - including finalising the setup of the Institute for Apprenticeships - it's fair to say providers will knuckle down and make the best of it.

Thankfully the Construction Industry Training Board Levy is likely to remain for a while, at least until the Government agrees its longer term future.

So let's look past these short-term challenges and ask how is the UK going to move forward?

Without a doubt we need the type of skills system in the UK which will prepare industries and workforces for Brexit and worldwide competition.

There are already some sound policy ideas in what the Government is trying to do for young people. Apprenticeships are a great idea, with end-testing, as is increasing the opportunities for technical and sector based education. However, there are a number of areas which need further focus.

For a start, we need to develop a clear UK-wide Skills Enhancement Strategy which credibly drives up productivity and competitiveness in all our key sectors, including construction, building and civil engineering. Such a strategy needs underpinning with a robust implementation programme.

We also need to make the UK skills market function better - including the links between employers, Higher Education, Further Education and independent providers.

And we need to encourage more employers to engage with apprenticeships and skills development as well as ensuring there is a clear understanding of the importance of up-skilling the existing workforce as well as focusing management training on productivity improvement.

Did you know that new entrants from the education system replace just two per cent of our workforce each year? Relying on this alone will not be enough to achieve an overall step-change in productivity. We must also invest in the existing workforce.

At the moment we do not have a single governance structure to drive this forward. But the Government’s new Institute for Apprenticeships gives us just such an opportunity to do so.

To ensure this system meets the needs of industry, we also need to put in place an employer-led and industry-based structure which represents all of our key sectors, as a matter of urgency. This would allow us to bring together the various initiatives - such as reformed apprenticeships and the wider Post-16 Skills Plan - to create a coherent Skills Enhancement Strategy, building on what we have done to date and taking it to the next stage.

And that next stage should be based on a ‘careers pathway’ approach helping us to properly understand what technical education we need for 16 to 19 year olds, the apprenticeship standards required and the ways to up-skill the existing workforce.

From this we can then create a single implementation programme - because with a clear and coherent management of what's needed employers and providers will have the confidence to move forward.

To talk to NOCN about its unified approach to post-16 education, including FE, vocational skills qualifications, English and Maths, and apprenticeships, email or use the contact form.