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Why are Level 2 Qualifications and Apprenticeships key to social mobility and productivity?

Tom Burton, Director of Apprenticeships, NOCN

This year’s Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Annual Conference in London on 24-25 June 2019 is about ‘skills for better productivity and social mobility’. As well as NOCN sponsoring the conference, my colleague Mark Buckton and I are going to be running a workshop looking specifically at why Level 2 Qualifications and Apprenticeships are key to social mobility, skills development and productivity.

As we know from recent research, and as the introductory information about the conference theme says; “lower level training leads to the biggest step change in productivity of an individual”. But with productivity currently top of the agenda, are we neglecting the most important qualifications?

The decline of Level 2 Apprenticeships

Despite widespread reforms to apprenticeships in 2017, recent reports such as the Public Accounts Committee’s apprenticeship progress report published in May 2019, suggest that: “the way the programme is evolving risks leaving behind people with lower skills and those from disadvantaged communities” by being “more heavily weighted towards higher-level apprenticeships” than previously available under the old apprenticeship frameworks. A focus on and demand for apprenticeships at Level 3 and above is not addressing the skills and qualifications that can have the greatest impact on social mobility and productivity.

This is a real shame for both learners and employers that could be benefiting, and it is something that we must address. The Government is focussing on this through its Industrial Strategy, focusing on apprenticeships as a vehicle for employer investment in those entering their workforces for the first time and committing to giving free access to Level 2 and 3 qualifications.

Jobs of the future

Level 2 Apprenticeships and Qualifications are so central to increasing UK productivity because they provide opportunities to upskill the workforce of the future who will need to operate in the context of Artificial Intelligence and data analytics and we are working to ensure that lower level qualifications are fit for the future.

Level 2’s in sectors like construction are of national importance to maintain a pipeline of talent. But other sectors - hospitality, finance, health care, social care, business and customer service – also heavily depend on this entry point. We must start seeing these qualifications as a key driver of the UK’s future competitiveness.

Shouting about Level 2 Qualifications

The AELP conference will provide an opportunity to debate whether all levels of post-16 learning are now truly open to all, but when it comes to social mobility and productivity, we need to consider more than just accessibility to training. Awareness is also an issue: If productivity is a key economic and social priority and it is driven by lower level training then we need to not only be making this available but also promoting it. The push in recent years to apprenticeships at Level 3 and above has detracted from high volume potential applicants to lower level qualifications – and we want to challenge this.

Lower level qualifications will only have a real long-term impact on an individual’s standing and prospects, and on wider society and the economy, if they are really valued and given the recognition they deserve by government, employers and the general public. Apprenticeship reforms were designed to ensure that there were clear careers pathways from lower level qualifications that offer real progression opportunities, but it seems employers are not currently seeing the longer-term outcomes. This could be partly down to how the Levy has been ‘sold’ or just the fact that changing ingrained perceptions about vocational vs academic qualifications at school leaver level. This is a longer term journey that we must continue working towards.

We’re looking forward to discussing the issue and how we can address it further at the conference, please follow our Twitter feed @NOCN1 and myself @cheftomburton for insights from the day.