£4.2bn annual skills investment needed to support pandemic recovery, says national commission

The Future-Ready Skills Commission has called for increased funding in the adult skills sector to see the nation through the fallout of COVID-19

In a report published last week, the Future-Ready Skills Commission called for an annual investment of £4.2bn to support adult skills development across the country, pledging that the continuing cash injection would help to future-proof the UK workforce and assist with the nation’s economic recovery in the fallout from COVID-19.

The report, titled A Blueprint for a Future-Ready Skills System, lays out nine key recommendations to boost adult skills funding and careers advice – including a ground-breaking shift of powers for its delivery and governance.

Hoping to encourage a devolved skills system built around people, businesses and local economies, the commission feels that the shift in structure will help employers recruit and retain the talent they need, while also granting individuals access to opportunities that will drive more resilient, flexible and dynamic local labour markets, while simultaneously speeding up the UK’s economic recovery.

Counsellor Susan Hinchcliffe, chair of the Future-Ready Skills Commission and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and leader of Bradford Council, commented: “The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt hardest by the most disadvantaged in the labour market. We can see the economy transforming in front of our eyes, with whole industries and sectors being decimated. Unless we can support people with skills and training in a way that fits with the reality on the ground where they live and work, we risk damaging the life chances of a whole generation.

“We need a radical change in attitude towards skills and training, enabling life-long learning, empowering people to take up their skills entitlements from school to retirement, and employers that value investing in their staff. As our report argues, the UK’s skills system has to be based on the needs of people, businesses and local economies it is intended to serve if we are to build an economy that works for everyone.”

“We need a radical change in attitude towards skills and training, enabling life-long learning, empowering people to take up their skills entitlements from school to retirement, and employers that value investing in their staff” – Counsellor Susan Hinchcliffe, Future-Ready Skills Commission

The report calls for:

  • The reversal of 10 years of funding cuts in adult education and devolving national funding streams to regions in their entirety, amounting to £4.2bn in annual adult skills funding to be devolved
  • Universal skills entitlements from school-leaving to retirement, with the right to minimum qualification levels, funding to support people’s ambitions, and careers advice based on local labour markets so people can understand how an investment in skills will benefit them
  • Increased collaboration between employers and educators in setting local training agendas, with regional five-year strategic skills plans, supported by formal delivery agreements to create a stronger link between the demands of labour markets and the skills available

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Ensure the funding system offers fair and equitable access to adult education, while reversing the long-term decline in the uptake of adult training
  • Empower areas to design services around the individual to address complex and interrelated health, employment and skills issues
  • Everyone should have access to the same quality of information regarding jobs and careers – regardless of age
  • Employers should take greater ownership of their talent management and skills development
  • Adult skills and careers funding must be devolved so people can gain relevant skills for high quality work
  • Implement a five-year strategic skills plan to help individuals understand their own skills requirements
  • Future-proof training for regional labour markets and lay out delivery agreements with skills providers, supported by investment funding
  • Large-scale public infrastructure projects should be designed to level up areas and include an additional skills premium of up to 5% of the total budget to maximise their economic potential
  • Review the national apprenticeship system to make it more effective

The commission has carried out a detailed analysis over the UK skills system over the last two years, covering everything from post-16 education to adult skills and career development, examining national and global examples of best practice to inform the brand-new system proposal.

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