- Surprisingly little mention of education and skills, which will be crucial to recovery.
- Apprenticeship funding is welcome, but needs to be better targeted.
- Traineeships are valuable, but a broader curriculum and better connections to work in school would support all young people to be ready for future opportunities.
- Support for SMEs and for the emerging green and digital skills should be front and centre.
- More rounded support for young people after this difficult year, in particular FE students and apprentices whose practical training has been so badly hit.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption across our education system and the labour market. We have seen its impacts land disproportionately – with young people facing the double whammy of a disrupted education system and tough labour market; significant job losses particularly among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; workers in lower-level occupations and with fewer qualifications more vulnerable to unemployment, and unemployment rising fastest in ‘left behind’ areas.
Given the turbulence that has been felt up and down the country, we needed the 2021 Budget to look ahead towards hope and recovery – and to signal long term support for the education sector. However, despite the importance of education in the national recovery, it was surprising to see very little mention of its role. Here we highlight our response to the recent announcements:
Increased funding and flexibility for apprenticeships
At the Edge Foundation, “Our plan for apprenticeships” has long advocated for an apprenticeship system that is higher quality, one that encompasses broader transferable skills and better preparation for the onset of the fourth industrial revolution and green economy.
It was encouraging to see the Budget extend the cash bonus scheme for hiring new apprentices, with the scheme set to double to £3,000, extend to September 2021 and encompass apprentices aged 25 and over. This longer-term support could offer a particular lifeline to smaller businesses, but we believe the funding could have been more strategically focused away from adults already in employment (who need a more flexible training offer) and towards young people aged 16-24 starting their careers at this incredibly difficult time.
Meanwhile, the newly announced £7m “portable apprenticeships” programme due to launch in July 2021 is intended to enable greater flexibility, allowing learners to work across multiple projects with different employers, and creative industries such as TV and film particularly set to benefit from this more flexible approach. While this is a step in the right direction, and builds on the legacy of Apprenticeship Training Agencies that Edge has long advocated, we believe that flexible learning and retraining will become increasingly essential as our economy adapts to the needs of the fourth industrial revolution. Rather than restricting flexibility to particular sectors, we envision an apprenticeship system that is flexible and diverse for all learners – one that enables learners to blend education and work, and one that supports flexibility at the local level so SMEs and local regions can more appropriately tailor the programme to meet local needs.
Increased support for traineeships
In our report ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Education’ we highlighted that the economic impact has been, and will continue to be, felt disproportionately by those under 24. High-quality support for our young people could help to turn the tide towards economic recovery and we welcome the government’s announcement of an additional £126 million for 16-24 year old traineeships. However, to avoid a similar four month delay between announcement and project launch which we witnessed after last summer’s ‘plan for jobs’ traineeship announcement we need to see government’s ambition matched with pace and sensible implementation.
Supporting SMEs to upskill
As we look to the future, the impacts of Brexit, the necessity of a greener economy and the onset of a fourth industrial revolution will bring a range of new megatrends such as increasing automation, digital technology, artificial intelligence and big data all of which will require new skills to be developed across the labour market. In our Skills Shortages summary report, we draw together the key messages on skills shortages and future skills that will be needed across the UK.
The new “Help to Grow” scheme aims to provide a management and digital programme to upskill 30,000 SMEs over three years. This is a welcome initiative, but we will need to see greater detail and would advocate for a range of local actors (including local colleges, local employers, and bodies such as Skills Advisory Panels, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Mayoral Combined Authorities) to build organic, collaborative partnerships in order to identify these skills needs locally.
But we also needed to see more specific measures to prepare our workforce for the skills needed in a green economy. This transition needs to be embedded at the heart of any upskilling agenda to ensure that workers are given adequate information about green jobs and the opportunities to reskill and upskill in preparation for a greener economy.
Greater long-term support particularly for FE students and apprentices
Given the unprecedented impact that the pandemic has had on young people’s learning, we were disappointed to see a lack of long term strategic support for the education and skills sector. Despite the £700 million that was announced last week on top of the £1 billion education catch-up package announced last year, there was little in the way of longer-term support over the length of this Parliament.
The narrative here about ‘catch up’ and ‘lost learning’ is not helpful to young people’s development or mental health. Instead, we want to see more rounded support after this very difficult period for their broader development and in particular additional support for students in the Further Education sector and apprenticeships, who have been particularly hard hit with many being furloughed or losing their jobs. Given the hands on, practical nature often required across technical subjects, the government must and should do more to protect these learners.
 Summary from Learning and Work Institute in Edge__SSB-8_web-1c.pdf - page 2