One of the issues raised by Gordon Brown during his interview on this morning’s Today programme was skills.  Britain’s ‘skills crisis’ is addressed in an important speech this lunchtime by Tory education frontbencher John Hayes.

These are some of the worrying facts highlighted by Mr Hayes:

  • Even if the Government were to meet its targets for improving the UK’s skills by 2020, at least 4 million adults will still not have the literacy skills expected of an 11-year-old child and 12 million would not have equivalent numeracy skills.
  • Within London unemployment stands at over 300,000, a rate of 7.6% but 61% of employers currently face skills shortages; a rise of 12% in just one year.
  • Over a third of adults in the UK do not have a basic school leaving qualification – double the proportion in Canada and Germany.  Five million people have no qualifications at all.
  • Just 28% of Britons are qualified to apprentice, skilled craft, and technician levels, compared to 51% in France and 65% in Germany.
  • Projections suggest that up to 75% of jobs in 2012 are likely to require skills to at least Level 3, but only 50% of the current workforce have attained this level.

Agreeing with the analysis of his fellow Cornerstone MP, Julian Brazier, Mr Hayes rejects the idea that immigration should be used to solve this crisis:

"The Government’s failure to grasp the growing skills deficit helps to explain the scale of migration to Britain from Central and Eastern Europe.  Predominately young and hardworking people from the new EU states often have skills that we lack.  But immigration is a palliative not a cure for the skills crisis.  Unrestricted immigration strains our capacity to provide school places, healthcare and housing and it has an unpredictable affect on unemployment as recently released figures make clear.  We should not use immigration as a way of shirking our responsibility to provide people with the skills to succeed."

Until the policy groups report Mr Hayes – like other frontbenchers –
cannot make firm policy but he does outline some options to reskill

  • More employer-led vocational education: "We should look again to the role the Sector Skills Councils play.  Not all yet work well. But many do. And some, like Skillset, GoSkills and SEMTA, excel.  They are employer-led organisations covering specific sectors.  Perhaps they should play a more important role at the heart of a demand-led system." and "Better integrating the private sector in vocational course design would improve the fit between the supply of vocation education and demand, so incentivising private sector investment."
  • Reworking of the Apprenticeship Schemes: "Central to successful apprenticeship schemes elsewhere in Europe is mentoring by a highly skilled and experienced craftsman.  Yet not all Modern Apprenticeship frameworks stipulate the need for each apprentice to have a mentor in the workplace.  This lack of mentoring helps to explain why 30 per cent of apprentices drop out of the Modern Apprenticeship programme."
  • Professional accreditation to raise status of vocational skills: "Evidence from around the world suggest that licence to practice schemes work help to raise skill levels; increase respect for occupations, improve quality and workmanship; reduce or even eliminate ‘cowboys’ and so increase public confidence… When business and commerce works with educators and trainers, accreditation through independent scrutiny and peer review can provide a competitive edge; a marketing advantage for British business.  Quality assurance – designed, respected and chosen by firms which voluntarily opt for excellence.  Government could encourage and support this, not least through the buying power of the public sector."
  • A new generation of specialist FE colleges: "We could extend the specialist schools idea to FE colleges, giving birth to a new generation of high profile specialist colleges, endowed by and linked to particular businesses or business sectors.  Such solutions would work well in urban areas where people could choose between specialist colleges.  In rural Britain a different approach is required. We must look at greater collaboration between providers, more satellite campuses and the use of the best technology to facilitate remote teaching and learning.  We must go the extra mile to ensure that those in isolated and rural communities have every opportunity to succeed."

A pdf of John  Hayes’ full speech and recommendations can be downloaded here.

Later this week there’ll be a debate on vocational education on when David Belchamber will propose his own ideas to address Britain’s skills gaps.