Tech and business advances have accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Rather than preparing for the economy of the future in 2030, we have to get ready for it today. The make-up of the workforce is going to continue to evolve over the coming months and years thanks to greater automation, a shift to digital enabled roles, and transformation happening across many parts of the economy. All of this impacts on the demand for skills and education – and so, we need a system that can adapt and be flexible to meet this great reskilling and upskilling challenge.
We welcome that Post-16 education is at the heart of the current government’s plans for economic recovery, as well as its wider “levelling up” agenda. Significant change is on the way, highlighted by the Skills for Jobs White Paper and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.
However, in a recent poll of over 2,000 decision makers in UK businesses, we found that two thirds (62%) of business leaders in the UK are worried about their ability to find people with the right skills for their vacancies. As furlough ends and we all start to adjust to a ‘new normal’, this is a good time to take stock, and make sure we have the right education and training system in place to support the needs of our economy.
Within this context we wanted to understand the impact of the coming reforms. Pearson commissioned a series of roundtable discussions with educators and employers, to find out what the coming reforms could mean for learners, providers, higher education institutions, and employers across England. We also sought to understand the impact of these changes in the context of the unprecedented challenges the country faces in maintaining jobs, boosting productivity, and economic growth.
The overwhelming message from these discussions was that enterprising firms across the UK are ready to make the most of global opportunities and take on new staff, we just need to make sure hardworking people have the training options they need to be match fit. The most powerful lesson we learnt was that giving local leaders the tools and funding to provide the right training for the demands in their area, will see the nation thrive.
The final report Spotlight on Workforce Skills: A policy report into the changing face of post-16 education policy in England from this consultation made a series of recommendations for improvement, including:
- Extending training funding to those looking to reskill, not just upskill, will help meet the rapidly changing needs of firms.
- Currently only those without a Level 3 qualification can have access to the funding entitlement to take a Level 3 course – this needs to change so that those with a Level 3 qualification already can also have the opportunity to reskill.
- Giving local leaders more say over funding for training will make sure the education and training system works better for employers and jobseekers in regions across the country.
- The post-16 system risks misalignment with the demands of the labour market and needs to be more agile to respond to shifting skills and employment patterns. The level 3 reforms could exacerbate this by removing high quality qualifications that are recognised and valued by employers.
At Pearson we are determined to play our part by continuing to develop and offer high quality qualifications, like BTECs, Higher Nationals and T Levels, designed in partnership with employers and industry experts to meet their needs. We also know that learning does not stop after you leave school, college or university – it continues throughout working lives and needs to be available in relevant and accessible formats for those who are in the workforce or looking to learn new skills or knowledge alongside other commitments that adult life brings. The key to this is developing career- focused education and learning which is relevant, accessible, and flexible for these learners, meeting their needs. Bitesize courses, which are stackable/modular and available in high quality digital formats, allow people to take personal ownership for their learning. Access to online learning has never been more important and that's why we’ve launched two new online platforms, the Pearson Learning Hub and UK Learns in the past 18 months.
Maintaining flexibility and a broad range of options to support access to learning and reskilling is critical to skills reform. With government, educators and employers all recognising the need to support upskilling and reskilling, we have a unique opportunity to develop a skills system that delivers for everyone. It is crucial to get this right to ensure people can access lifelong learning, update their skills and make progress in their careers and personal lives.
Donna Ford-Clarke, Product Director for BTEC, Apprenticeships and Digital Services at Pearson