In January 2017, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy set out in a Green Paper how it proposes to build the UK’s industrial strategy. The strategy is based around ten pillars to drive growth across the entire economy.
Our response to the Industrial Strategy consultation primarily focuses on the ‘Developing Skills’ pillar, although it also touches on issues relevant to ‘Investing in Science Research & Innovation’. A summary of our response is available below, and the full submission is available to read here.
- We support the aims of the Industrial Strategy and wholeheartedly endorse making ‘Developing Skills’ one of its pillars. We also welcome the government’s continuing commitment to implement the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review.
- Although significant effort has been expended to increase the number of STEM graduates, insufficient attention has been paid to the supply of skilled technicians, leading to a chronic shortage. The government, working with partners in the STEM community, needs to do more to highlight the importance and secure the supply of technicians.
- We welcome the recent commitment to increase the funding available for 16-19-year-olds following technical education routes. But we urge the government to move away from a one-size-fits-all funding approach, towards a system that funds study programmes according to what they actually cost to deliver. Programme funding levels should also acknowledge that training programmes targeting different occupations require different numbers of taught hours. Such a differentiated funding model also provides a straightforward mechanism to incentivise skills training in areas of most need.
- A key weakness in our current skills system is the paucity of technical education provision at Levels 4 and 5 (higher education below Level 6 bachelor’s degrees). If we are not to lose out to our economic competitors, the UK must improve the supply and quality of technicians at Levels 4 and 5. To achieve these improvements, significant policy intervention by government is needed. The government should commission a focused, independent review of the higher technical education landscape to define the nature of government intervention required, building on the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review.
- FE training providers should be encouraged to work more closely with local agencies (eg LEPs and Combined Authorities), who understand the needs of the local economy, to plan their curricula. Offering training providers conditional longer-term funding arrangements would help to drive this behaviour.
- More needs to be done to ensure that the FE system contributes to innovation and knowledge transfer, including incentivising partnerships between colleges and employers.
- The government should consider how to tackle the need for technician skills in emerging industries. A positive first step would be to give Catapults a clearer remit in this area, and encourage them to work with Institutes of Technology to ensure there exists appropriate training provision for technicians in the emerging industries.
- Data collection around skills demand and supply in the UK compares poorly with what is available in other countries. The current 4-digit SOC unit groups used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are too broad to be helpful in identifying skills requirements. This is a significant failing in our ability to understand and meet the country’s skills needs. The government should task the ONS, as a matter of urgency, to improve the data it collects on skills.
- The framework of Gatsby benchmarks for good career guidance, which enjoys widespread support among schools and colleges, should be placed at the heart of the government’s forthcoming career strategy. The new strategy must also drive an improved understanding of the new technical education system and the opportunities it will provide.