Kevin Rowan. Head of Organisation, Services and Skills, TUC

There is common ground that expanding quality sustainable employment must be a key plank of our efforts to rebuild the post-Covid economy and achieve a much fairer society. And there is also a consensus that access to well-paid jobs depends significantly on opening up opportunities to learning and skills for young people and adults alike, especially as almost all occupations are increasingly subject to technological change and the utilisation of AI.

Promoting access to learning especially applies to those who are too often locked out of education and training and trapped in a cycle of low pay or no pay. Even before the pandemic hit, a huge swathe of the labour market was dominated by insecure and precarious work paying very low wages.

Covid-19 has served to make matters much worse on this front and also triggered rising unemployment, especially among young people in relatively low-paid, low-skilled jobs. At the same time we are grappling with the challenges arising out of the impacts of Brexit, automation and the transition to a greener economy.

We have entrenched weaknesses in our skills system which puts us toward the bottom of OECD skills league tables and limits the growth of quality jobs:

  1. First, we have a poor record in supporting more people to progress to intermediate and higher-level technical skills.
  2. Secondly, adults have few if any opportunities to improve on poor attainment in formal education or to upskill and retrain for a career change.

All of this calls for a new scale of ambition beyond what is on offer in the skills white paper.

The government must set an ambition for a high-skill economy, where workers are able to quickly gain both transferable and specialist skills to access new opportunities. And that vision should be matched by an efficient and effective skills system focused on access as well as outcomes.

Many more young people should be empowered to purse an apprenticeship or a higher technical qualification and enjoy the quality experience that is the norm in other countries. In the case of apprenticeships this requires a new approach by government to enforce employment and training rights, eradicate low pay, widen access, and to guarantee minimum progression to an advanced apprenticeship.

For adults the much-lauded policy answer is a “lifetime skills guarantee” that is actually more restrictive than the adult skills entitlements that were abolished around ten years ago. The new guarantee only applies to a prescribed list of level 3 qualifications and many adults are completely excluded from retraining because they have achieved this level of attainment.

TUC research shows that take-up of this “guarantee” will be further reduced by the puzzling and counter-productive decision by government to cut the grant for the Union Learning Fund. The OECD, a massive range of leading employers and many other stakeholders have hailed the ULF as one of the most effective initiatives at helping workers with few or no qualifications to progress up the skills ladder.

Much promised long-term investment in FE and lifelong learning has been pushed down the tracks to the spending review later this year. But we already know from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that spending on the National Skills Fund will only reverse one third of the reduction to the adult skills budget over the last decade. Employer investment in training has not compensated for the decline in state funding. We have witnessed falling spend over the past two decades and a sharp rise in the proportion of employers not providing any training at all in recent years.

The TUC is calling for a package of measures to give a real boost to lifelong learning.

This would involve a new right to retrain for everybody, backed up by personal lifelong learning accounts and a significant increase to the government’s adult skills budget. We should also follow the examples of other countries that have introduced rights for workers to guarantee them paid time off for education and training and access to regular skills reviews in the workplace.

Trade unions and their union learning reps have years of expertise and experience that could be drawn on to kickstart workplace initiatives along these lines. However, there is not one mention of unions in the white paper despite the OECD highlighting that England lacks the institutional partnership of employers and unions that effectively govern quality skills systems in other countries.

There is also little mention of the strategic role of Combined Authorities and the significant strategies that are under development in some parts of the country to link skills strategies with Fair Employment Charters.

Kevin Rowan. Head of Organisation, Services and Skills, TUC

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page