NIACE chief calls for broader debate on skills devolution

22 October 2014

The recent Metro Growth report by the City Growth Commission gives a welcome and clear recognition of the central role that skills will play in our future economic success.

But the report misses the point on adult skills, says NIACE Chief Executive, David Hughes:

“The Commission makes the welcome and compelling argument that big investment in physical infrastructure needs to be matched by a similar level of investment in skills if we are going to achieve sustainable growth.”

“But at the moment, LEPs and Local Authorities often set their local growth strategies quite separately from how they plan to raise skills and career aspirations in their areas. Clearly, the two need to be joined up.

The report calls for devolved skills budgets at city and local area level:

“This is where I feel the report misses a trick. We definitely do need local influence over how skills money should be spent, but Adult Skills budgets are diminishing as grant funding shifts to loans. The reality now is that most learning is being funded by individuals themselves through loans, or by their employers.”

“And so far, the loans system isn’t working. We have seen a catastrophic fall in the take up of adult learning loans for those aged over 25, undertaking level 3 and 4 learning – from 400,000 in 2012/13 to on 57,100 adults in 2013/14. This is damaging to individuals who want to get on, damaging to employers who are facing skills shortages and damaging to local economic growth”.

“Something fundamental needs to change – it won’t be enough to devolve adult skills funding to LEPs and local authorities. We need a three-pronged approach: LEPs and Local Authorities need to understand and signal what skills are needed in their areas; learning providers and employers need to ensure the right courses are offered that develop those skills; people need to be persuaded to increase their skills and take up loans available to them.”

“It’s this joint approach that we called for in our recent Skills for Prosperity Manifesto. Getting adult skills right is vital for our cities and we need a wider debate about how we make it work.”