Welcome to our new weekly Skills Matter blog, designed to keep you up to date with the latest skills policy developments.
The blog is written by our policy specialist Stephen Howse.
Stephen has been with Semta since January 2015. With a background in political campaigns and media, Stephen has a range of experience to utilise in understanding and shaping skills policy for the benefit of the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector (AME). He is active meeting with employers and stakeholders to discuss their experiences and skills policy needs, he would welcome any further employer engagement via phone and email.
Stephen’s current areas of particular interest and knowledge are the apprenticeship reforms and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, Industry 4.0, diversity and high-level STEM skills shortages – his regular ‘Skills Matter’ policy blogs will touch upon all of these topics and more from across the AME spectrum.
Please do feel free to contact Stephen for anything skills and policy related either via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0845 643 9001.
At Semta, we’ve written previously on the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution and the tidal wave of skills change it is set to unleash on the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. At Monday’s 4IR All Party Parliamentary Group launch, I was able to see first hand just how much interest and excitement it’s generating – not just amongst employers and those ‘in the know’ in industry, but amongst Parliamentarians and those who have the power and influence to shape UK public policy.
It was especially exciting to be able to see up close some of the brilliant things being done by innovative UK firms at the leading edge of the wave, who had brought along their wares to exhibit to a House of Commons Terrace Pavilion as jam-packed with people as I have ever seen it. Companies like the additive manufacturer Dream 3D, whose exhibition demonstrating their 3D printers attracted much interest, are bringing the future to us – they are pioneering technology which is set to become commonplace across not just our sector but across the whole economy in years to come.
The Budget is coming up, and one of the lead promises has been £500m each year to be spent on delivering the fifteen new technical education pathways. It was pleasing to see technical education making the pages of national newspapers at the weekend, and even more pleasing to read in the letters pages so many words of support.
£500m sounds like a lot of money, but we need to remember that this comes in the context of a total schools budget of over £40bn per year and a total education spend of over £85bn. £500m a year of new money represents roughly 0.58% of the current budget – and comes following years of squeezes being applied to the budgets of the further education colleges which will now be invited to become the Institutes of Technology (IoTs) which will translate all of this additional funding into actual training. The government has so far announced just £170m to be allocated to the creation and development of IoTs – compare that with the up to £320m that is set to be ploughed into new grammar schools.
This is going to be a huge year in the ever-changing and ever-exciting world of skills policy. A raft of new governance arrangements are being finalised (including the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education), the apprenticeship levy is set to be introduced in April, new employer-designed standards are constantly being developed to replace the old frameworks, the first Institutes of Technology are set to open and new technical education routes are being drawn up to elevate it beyond its traditional status as a “Cinderella” service.
In this context, it’s important for people like me to remember why all of these reforms are being introduced – not to keep us and politicians in Westminster in work, but to boost the life chances and future employment opportunities of those who take apprenticeships and enrol in further and higher education. If the government hits its target for apprenticeship starts, that will mean three million lives potentially being transformed and three million people taking that first step on the ladder to a brighter future.
We need to train up a lot of workers with science, engineering and technology skills if we’re going to be able to overcome the skills crisis that’s facing our sector. The exact amount is up for debate – some say it’s 800,000, others say it’s over a million – but there’s general agreement that we need more of them.
That’s why the release of the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data today is so welcome. Over a quarter of young people in England say they would consider a career in science, while nearly three quarters think that science teaching will help them to get a job when they leave school – significantly higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average for developed nations.
If the Industrial Strategy is to succeed, it needs to be a genuine strategy to enable the United Kingdom to compete on the global stage in the decades to come – and that means it needs to be a Skills Strategy. Brexit will pose challenges to the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector, but it has the potential to offer the country an opportunity to reshape the way we think about and develop our skills base.
The update to the apprenticeship levy policy was one of the first major tests of the new Minister, Robert Halfon MP – and from an advanced manufacturing and engineering point of view, he’s done a great job of listening to concerns and ensuring they’re taken into account. A 24 month window to ‘use it or lose it’, a STEM funding uplift, extra cash for young apprentices and upward revisions to some engineering frameworks all help to paint a more positive picture. Employers in our sector want to make this policy work and the latest revisions to the policy will make it easier for them to do so.
So, what did we learn from Conservative Party conference about the government’s planned approach to skills, education and industry? Nothing startling that we didn’t already know. Much more revealing (and genuinely heartening) to me, in the time I spent in Birmingham, was the attitude of the Conservative grassroots.
If this conference is anything to go by, the wider Conservative family has enthusiastically bought into the government’s proposals on education, skills and the economy. The fringe agenda was studded with events focused on apprenticeships and Industrial Strategy, and those I went along to were well attended by a wide range of people. There was a lengthy round of applause for the mention by the Secretary of State for Education’s mention of University Technical Colleges. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric on social mobility was very well received.
This week saw the launch of the Institute for Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Skills & Demand in Industry 2016 report, outlining the challenges facing engineering firms in recruiting the staff they need to meet their skills needs.
It’s a very interesting, data-packed report and well worth reading – I won’t try to cover all of the findings in depth in the space of one blog piece, but I was particularly struck by one finding: that 91% of employers in the sector believe that boosting the amount of employers offering work experience to those in education is necessary if the sector is to improve the supply of engineers and technicians coming into it.
While the debate over the Prime Minister’s proposals to allow new grammar schools to be set up rages on, one element of the schools system has been rather ignored by most participants – the University Technical Colleges.
The 1944 Butler Education Act which introduced grammar schools was predicated on the introduction of sufficient technical schools to meet the educational needs of young people with the technical aptitude to go into a highly-skilled trade. However, in reality very few technical schools were ever founded – which is why the 11 Plus exam, never intended as a binary pass/fail measure of a young person’s talent, came to be seen as such a measure.
It was pleasing that at yesterday's first session of Prime Minister's Questions for some weeks, the very first question to the Prime Minister (after the usual one asking her about her engagements for the day, anyway) was on an issue of great importance to our engineering sector: research and development (R&D).
It's undeniable that the United Kingdom (UK) punches well above its weight as a research nation. With just 3.2% of global R&D expenditure and 4.1% of researchers, our country accounts for 11.6% of research citations and 15.9% of the world's most highly-cited articles. We have won 85 Nobel prizes and our top universities are amongst the very best, with four of the top ten being in the UK.