Skills boost our productivity and make us more competitive as a nation. Simply put, they are essential for keeping economies going.
Over the past couple of years, the Government has made significant progress to improve our skills system. The apprenticeship levy is transforming the way apprenticeships are funded. Although some employers are still dubious, there's a real need for a more sustainable funding system to help boost apprenticeship numbers. Likewise, the Post-16 Skills Plan aims to raise the status of vocational education and simplify the system, which is no bad thing.
So the intentions are good. But what about when it comes to implementation?
Back in 2014, we launched a report, 'Sense & Instability: three decades of skills and employment policy.' It showed that over the course of 30 years, there had been significant changes in the skills sector. Rather than improve the system, so much change only destabilised and complicated it.
At the time, we called for the Government to take a more stable, consistent approach to skills and employment policy. By that, we meant learning from past mistakes, aligning skills policy to long-term economic policies, and ensuring stability so new policies had time to embed properly.
Good, but could do better
Fast forward two years, and the continued focus on skills and the drive for a simpler, more aligned system is admirable. We've certainly seen fewer, bigger changes and a focus on long-term policy. This is brilliant progress.
However, as our updated Sense & Instability report shows, there are still too many barriers standing in the way of successful policy implementation.
There's instability around who has overall responsibility for skills. The skills remit has now been passed between departments 11 times, and in the past three decades there have been 65 Secretaries of State responsible for skills and employment policy, sometimes split between departments.
The Post-16 Plan shares similarities with the failed 14-19 Diploma initiative, which also aimed to simplify the system. Timescales continue to be rushed. Not enough has been done to ease the minds of employers worrying about the levy. The list goes on.
And perhaps most worrying is the lack of consultation around skills policy. The Post-16 Skills Plan is a prime example. If the Government wants its skills reforms to be successful, consultation is key. Otherwise, the Government risks losing out on valuable insight from employers, awarding bodies and education professionals who could shape and support implementation and help to embed skills policies successfully.
Take the time to reflect and consult
Skills are so important to our future economic growth, particularly as we still don't know what impact Brexit will have. We need a skills system that aligns to our long-term economic goals and puts us in a strong position for the future.
We should celebrate the positive steps that have happened over the past few years to drive forward the skills agenda, align it to employers' needs and raise the profile of vocational education and apprenticeships.
But unless the Government takes the time to reflect on what has been achieved, and consult with others about how best to move forward with its reforms, there's a real risk that any progress made over the past few years will be undone.