techUK analyses the state opening of Parliament which includes reforms to the skills system.
The Queen's Speech, delivered by Prince Charles, set the government's legislative agenda for the year. The speech introduced 38 parliamentary bills, including the Higher Education Bill. But does it produce the government's vision for a high-wage, high-skill economy?
Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) needs to be flexible
The Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), introduced in the Higher Education Bill, will provide people with a loan equivalent to four years of education (37,000 in today's fees) that they can use over their lifetime for a range of studies including shorter and technical courses. But will this truly help learners meet the cost of retraining?
LLE will open up new financing options for lifelong learning and adult education. However, if this is restricted to courses delivered by FE and HE institutions, it risks unintentionally freezing out swathes of learners for whom learning at traditional institutions is either unworkable or unappealing.
Understanding that tech continually evolves at pace, the tech sector has worked to create a training model that matches tech's evolution. These have been and continue to be underpinned by certifications that have the trust of employers and individuals alike. It is no surprise that these certifications have become synonymous with quality within the sector. But awareness of the quality of these courses outside the technology profession and amongst the general public is relatively low. This impacts trust and confidence and may even discourage individuals from retraining or upskilling, stop them from completing a course, or cause them to choose a low-quality provider. If the LLE is to truly provide a 21st century approach to learning, industry-led certification which is proven to increase employability must be an option open to learners who we know value the flexible, on-demand and modular elements of this type of training. techUK has highlighted this in its flagship skills report.
Flexible learning will benefit SMEs and their employees
With many businesses now running leaner operations because of the pandemic, there is a real concern that investment in skills and training, which is already low, falls even further down the list of priorities. While a relatively high proportion of employers in the UK provide training compared to other European economies, average training costs per employee are half the EU average.
This type of intensive, specific and modular learning can also be helpful to small-medium employers (SMEs) employers looking to train existing employees. While it has become standard practice for larger corporates to incorporate learning into the working day, with entire teams dedicated to Learning and Development' for their workforce, SMEs were underfunding employee training even before the pandemic began. Research has shown 53% of SME employers had not arranged or funded training in 2018, compared to 4% of organisations with 250 or more workers. This demonstrates the impact the LLE could have for SMEs. Let's make sure we get it right.
Levelling up education policy starts with digital skills and literacy
Other highlights from the Queen's Speech included the School Bill which will level up education opportunity so no child is left behind. techUK is interested in understanding what role digital will play. The pandemic has highlighted the deepening digital divide in the UK. Continued work is needed to provide the access, devices and infrastructure to ensure that every child in the UK can successfully learn and thrive, whether in their homes or at school.
While not all careers in the future will be digital and STEM focused, a basic level of digital literacy will be required to live and work in a digital world. Industry takes its responsibility seriously to help ensure young people can navigate the online world safely and securely. In order to deliver their Levelling Up mission for education, government must integrate digital skills throughout the learning journey. Read techUK's thoughts on the Levelling Up White Paper.
Renewed interest in review and reform of the Apprenticeship Levy
The Queen's Speech outlined ways to drive economic growth including examining whether the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in the right kinds of training. This was a short sentence in the speech background notes, but regardless we at techUK saw it. The Apprenticeship Levy is an important part of the changes to raise apprenticeship quality and supports techUK members to make a long-term and sustainable investment in skills and training. Reform of the levy is vital to ensure employers and learners continue to reap the rewards of apprenticeships. Now is the time to institute a full review.