New Skills for Jobs White Paper calls for ‘seamless and strong relationship between further education and industry’

Laurence Frewin, Principal and CEO at South Devon College reflects on the opportunities and implications within this important Government publication:

– Develop a closer relationship with Further Education colleges – get in touch with your FE College to discuss workforce development plans and requirements. Shape the curriculum to ensure qualifications, skills, knowledge and behaviours in current or future work force are fit for purpose now and in future. This also gives opportunities to develop talent pipeline through industry placements, help with real work based projects, or profile job opportunities especially at the end of the academic year.

– Increased investment in apprenticeships for adults or the existing employees provides a cost effective way to upskill an existing workforce, providing an opportunity for those already in work to develop with their existing employer.

– The new Kickstart scheme provides funding for employers to create new job placements for 16 to 24 year olds who are at risk of long term unemployment, a great way to discover or nurture new talent and create new job opportunities as lockdown ends.

In January, the Government’s Department for Education published a white paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity & Growth. This sets out how skills will be at the heart of driving the recovery of our economy after Covid19 and meeting the needs of the UK following Brexit. Importantly, the focus of this paper is on vocational and technical qualifications and apprenticeships. It positions lifelong education and skills-based training at the centre of the Government’s plans for economic recovery.

In his foreword, Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, states:

“To give ourselves the best chance of success we must make sure everyone has the skills which will allow them to get good jobs, both now and in the future.”

Before referring more specifically to the challenge in upskilling our workforce to keep up with technological advances:

“As the rate of technological change increases, further education will be crucial to building an agile and adaptable workforce…. Everyone will have the chance to retrain, update their skills and move into growth sectors, when they need to.” 

As our thoughts turn to reopening the country after lockdown in an economy that is, according to many economists ‘poised like a coiled spring’ to recover, what does this White Paper really mean for local businesses and employers?

Putting employers at the heart of our skills system so that education and training leads to jobs that improve productivity and fill skills gaps ​

The publication calls for a ‘seamless and strong relationship between further education and industry’.

Developing strong partnerships with our local and regional business community is nothing new for most colleges and at South Devon College we already work closely with over 1200 employer partners supporting apprenticeships and bespoke professional training amongst many other things.

Employability and improving employability skills is at the heart of everything we do as a College and a driving force behind the strategic development of our curriculum and the facilities that support them. The College’s Hi-Tech & Digital Centre opened in 2019 and is already supporting progression of skilled individuals into digital, engineering and creative industries. The forthcoming relaunch of the South Devon Marine Academy in its new purpose-built centre is set to support strong growth and new opportunities in the marine sector.

Encouragingly, it is suggested that there will now be more support for the further education sector and the way colleges already work closely with businesses, with the introduction of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). Additional funding for College Business Centres to lead business development and innovation will be made available. There may also be an opportunity for Devon to be one of the proposed Trailblazer Areas and, if this presents itself, we should all work together to grab this with open arms.

Following the announcement from the Prime Minister in Exeter in November last year, the White Paper details the new Lifetime Skills Guarantee for adults – an entitlement to free study at Level 3 (A level equivalent), together with the introduction of employer-led Digital and Technical Bootcamps to help more adults enter education and find higher skilled, better paid and more secure employment. ​

The new Bootcamps focus on generating interest in growth industries where skills gaps exist across the South West. The college has moved quickly in setting up its series of Digital and Technical Bootcamps, with four courses starting in March and April for Automotive Engineering, Photonics, Optics and Microelectronics in partnership with global employers from within Torbay’s world class technical cluster, including Effect Photonics and Gooch & Housego, who will guarantee an interview for those who successfully complete the 12 week course.

This initiative, along with the exciting new Kickstart scheme which provides funding for employers to create new job placements for 16 to 24 year olds who are at risk of long term unemployment, is a first step towards achieving the Government’s aim to align ‘the vast majority’ of post-16 technical education and training to employer-led standards by 2030.

Investing in higher-level technical qualifications that provide a valuable alternative to a university degree 

​The College welcomes this pragmatic approach that sets out to address the gap in perceived value of Further and Higher Education. Williamson says that, “…too many people – and too many employers – wrongly believe that studying for a degree at university is the only worthwhile marker of success.”

Over the past 5 years, we have seen significant growth in higher apprenticeships for programmes run from our highly regarded University Centre South Devon (UCSD), far beyond that even of our traditional degree level programmes.

Higher apprenticeships are an excellent route for young people to secure a degree, “earning and learning” and also provide an opportunity for those already in work, perhaps in lower paid roles, to develop with their existing employer – adding value to their business by aligning personal development and formal qualifications to business needs. This minimises risk and costs for individuals and their employers in developing important skills and knowledge and gaining a relevant qualification.

Making sure people can access training and learning flexibly throughout their lives and are well-informed about what is on offer through great careers support

Students come to us from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds and for many, studying a degree level programme straight from school may not have been an option.

We are finding increasing numbers of adults approaching us for advice on a change in career later in life, perhaps returning to work after a break to care for family. Others return to education in search of a more fulfilled and meaningful career or improved opportunities.

According to an internal survey run by South Devon College in 2019, concerns over funding and affordability was the second most common barrier to returning to education.

Further education must be accessible to all and initiatives like the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the introduction of a new flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement (the equivalent of four years of post-18 education from 2025) as well as the launch of a single portal for lifelong careers advice should make this a reality.

Supporting excellent teaching in further education

Steps are proposed by the Government, and early plans are already in place, to raise the profile of further education to attract the very best talent into this increasingly highly regarded, fast moving and exciting sector.

Although there is still a lot of detail to be worked through, The Skills for Jobs White Paper has done more for the further education sector than any other initiative in the last 10 years. It is clear that whether across our post-pandemic recovery, the urgent transition to a net zero carbon economy or the levelling up agenda, colleges have a critical role to play… and we are ready!