Come together for skills provision

31 March 2014

Column originally published in The Municipal Journal on 18 March 2014.

The fact that many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when the recent Skills Funding Statement announced a cut of almost 20% to the Adult Skills Budget indicates that many in the adult learning and skills community thought it was going to be worse.

However, this should not distract from how challenging the future will be for providers and how it will impact on the prospects for sustained economic growth.

On the horizon for many colleges and independent training providers is the challenge to sustain the quality of the learning they offer, while in some cases their survival is under threat.

Colleges and other further education providers have been told to expect a 15% cut – which could be as much as £1m from the budget of every college in the country.

Because of the crucial role colleges play in helping people of all ages to develop their skills the obvious knock-on effect on future economic prosperity are a deep cause for concern.

During the recent Apprenticeship Week we heard much praise from Government for the contribution Apprentices in all industries and businesses were making to growth and there were thousands of pledges from employers of all sizes to ‘take on more’ which will undoubtedly help address significant skills shortages.

Similar positive words were heard around the effectiveness of traineeships in addressing issues like youth unemployment.

These two areas – apprenticeships and traineeships – are being protected, however they are only two routes and won’t – on their own – solve the long-term skills challenges our country faces.

Cuts of the size announced, will undoubtedly mean that colleges will really struggle to offer the kind of broad and quality provision that is urgently needed.

While this is a deeply concerning picture, and many colleges may feel they have no other choice but to cut provision, now is the crucial time for employers and colleges to come together, through LEPs, to build partnerships and work together to make most effective use of the funding they have.

In an ever-changing skills system it is vitally important to use local labour market intelligence and build effective partnerships.

If colleges are creative, there is potential for a more explicit role for employers supporting courses of all sizes and kinds to ensure learners get the opportunities they both want and need to improve their skills.

NIACE can, and will, play a crucial role here – we have expertise in local labour market intelligence and want to see a dynamic labour market in which people of all ages can aim for, and gain, the necessary skills from entry level English and maths to Higher Education.

This is absolutely vital if we want to ensure that a vibrant, dynamic and growing economy benefits the many – individuals, families, communities and workplaces – and not just the few.