The LGA has set up a Skills Taskforce to help engage industry experts and stakeholders on our Work Local project – our vision for an integrated and devolved employment and skills system – so it is seen as a way of providing placed-based solutions to some of the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit and the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
To this end, 10 national organisations, think tanks and charities took part in a recent roundtable together with local councils and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). All share a strong interest in making the skills and employment system as effective as possible and felt changes were needed, particularly in respect of apprenticeships, basic skills and funding, among others.
Apprenticeship reform was a key concern. Local areas are keen to ensure that as many people and businesses as possible can benefit from successful apprenticeships, but the LGA believes they must be given the power and funds to ensure there is a coherent vision for apprenticeships across their areas.
It was acknowledged that the objective is to create parity of esteem between technical and academic education; apprenticeships are now an alternative to university for school leavers, and also offer progression pathways, including degree apprenticeships, for existing employees.
However, at the end of the first full year of the apprenticeship levy (2017/18) there were 369,700 apprenticeship starts in England, down 125,000 on 2016/17.
Questions raised included:
- Should apprenticeships be ‘rationed’ in the future, and how could this be done?
- Is the levy for all kinds of skills needs and employer-led, or to rebalance the bias towards training for people without a degree?
- Is the word ‘apprenticeships’ putting older people off accessing valuable training?
Another concern was the perceived failure of the basic skills system, given that nine million adults have low levels of numeracy and literacy. The number of adults in further education has halved (down two million) since 2005/06, and the number improving their literacy and/or numeracy has fallen by a third since 2010/11.
There was consensus that action on basic skills enables people to move up the career ladder and move out of poverty, making it vital in unlocking the full potential of local areas.
Points made included:
- There is free entitlement to this learning provision, but people are not accessing it.
- People with low skills are less likely to have an employer that is investing in their skills; smaller employers do not see themselves as having that role.
- There is a fragmented approach to tackling basic skills: coordinated activity at a local level is needed to address that.
It was also felt that the current funding system should be reviewed. The separate pots of money are difficult to access, reflecting the fragmentation of policy making by different Whitehall departments; current provision is focused too much on the short term, when a longer-term approach is needed; and revenue funding would be useful in addition to existing capital skills funding.
The roundtable also considered the future of work, the role of councils, devolution and centralisation, and you can find out more in the full briefing on this session at www.local.gov.uk/skills-taskforce.
We have two more events planned, on careers and retraining for a changing local economy, and the future of work, with a view to publishing a final report at the LGA’s annual conference in Bournemouth in July.