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It’s all go in the Lords

It has been all go on the skills front in the House of Lords recently, with a major debate on the role of skills and an ongoing inquiry into skills for the future on apprenticeships and training by the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee.

Both the debate and the inquiry have shone a light on some emerging policy debates and consensus building in the corridors of power. Some of the areas for discussion will be no surprise to those of us in the sector: the future of the apprenticeship levy, a National Skills Strategy and how to align this with local skills needs and the skills of the future.

House of Lords debate on skills

The House of Lords debate on ‘the importance of skills for the success of the UK economy and for the quality of life of individuals’ was notable for its consensus rather than debate. Lord Aberdare kicked off the discussion by stressing the urgent need for a strategic, long-term national skills strategy. He pointed out significant shortages in sectors like green technology, AI, and healthcare, emphasising that a collaborative effort between the government, educational institutions, and employers is necessary to address these gaps.

Throughout the debate, several Lords echoed these concerns, highlighting how current educational and training frameworks are falling short. Young people, in particular, are finding themselves unprepared for the job market, leading to higher unemployment rates and limited career opportunities. These repeated calls for a long-term approach are echoes of AELP, and the sector’s, ask for National Skills Strategy.

Lord Mair brought a crucial perspective on gender disparities in skills development, especially in STEM fields. He called for targeted policies like scholarships and mentorship programs to encourage more women to enter these areas. This push for inclusivity continues to be vital as a good in itself, but also for fostering a diverse and innovative workforce.

Lifelong learning and continuous professional development were also key themes and areas of consensus. Baroness Bennett stressed that in today’s fast-changing world, the workforce must be adaptable and capable of acquiring new skills throughout their careers. Government support for initiatives promoting lifelong learning, such as adult education was highlighted as essential.

House of Lords - Industry and Regulators Committee

The Industry and Regulators Committee sessions reinforced these points. Witnesses discussed the current challenges and opportunities in the skills system. They emphasized the need for a coherent, integrated approach and stable, long-term funding to encourage both young people and adults to pursue vocational training and lifelong learning.

The Committee sessions did reveal an increasingly lively area of policy debate around the Apprenticeship Levy. Former Education Secretary Charles Clake, former Skills Minister Robert Halfon and Lord Layard discussed the possibility of ringfencing apprenticeship levy funds for young people. Robert Halfon argued that the levy should support all age groups, promoting lifelong learning and allowing adults to reskill or upskill as they change careers. In contrast, Charles Clarke and Lord Layard contended that the levy should be ring-fenced for young people, ensuring they receive the necessary support to enter the job market and develop their careers early on.

While the trend of fewer young people taking on an apprenticeship is worrying, AELP believes the levy should remain an all ages, all levels system. Rather than shutting out learners, employers should be incentivised to take on young apprentices. The government should also think about how it can support SMEs to take on more apprentices, given their track record of hiring young apprentices.

The Lords inquiry continues next week when AELP CEO Ben Rowlands will be giving evidence in person, highlighting the challenges providers face in helping deliver skills for learners and employers. You can watch on parliament TV from 10.30am on Tuesday 21 May.

I want to finish with some food for thought. Lord Layard suggested that the Robbins Principle, that a university place should be found for everyone that wants it, should apply to apprenticeships – a sort of apprenticeships guarantee. If the government wants to truly close the gap between higher education and further education, wouldn’t this be a totemic move?

It’s all go in the Lords, with a major debate on the role of skills

By AELP's Public Affairs Manager - Ciarán Roche


Last published: 17/05/2024