Training in vain

Simon Haskel on reassessing which qualifications will best help young people and others seeking to retrain secure future employment

There is no doubt that we are approaching a major employment crisis, with currently some nine million people away from work. One third of these are in the hospitality sector, to which many will hopefully return when the economy improves. But headline employment has fallen by half a million and of these, a large proportion are part-time women. Self-employment is also down by 400,000. And estimates suggest that around one million young people are out of work.

Meanwhile, we are told that more and more jobs are becoming automated and that machine learning is now performing a lot of non-routine work.

There is no doubt that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating this structural change – but it also illuminates matters. Change in the retail sector, care giving, manufacturing, and in intangibles makes the relevant skills extremely relevant to holding on to jobs. Much of the emphasis is on digital skills, where the UK doesn’t score very highly. The government has introduced a lifetime skills guarantee scheme but development in these areas is moving faster than the rate at which people are being taught. 

The real shortage is in medium level technical skills, which until now we have been able to fill courtesy of access via the EU – something that we must now presume is going to change for the worse. This shortage is partly caused by low productivity and raising this depends very much on improving these skills and upskilling those with qualifications. Embedding personal human skills early on in the education system is vital.

Central in all of this are the clear signs that young people are losing out. Many of them will look to technical education or staying on in higher education as a means of securing their future to get a qualification – something ministers have recognised with the introduction of the opportunity-guarantee scheme. But apprenticeships and company training schemes are much reduced.

The UK’s approach towards technical education has been anything but consistent. There have been 28 major pieces of legislation since the 1980s with no apparent benefit in terms of quality, plus a whole series of changes in regional policy that have added to the inconsistency. As a result, a young person today or somebody seeking to improve their employment prospects through education are faced with over 13,000 qualifications. With the need to train or re-train and to benefit from government schemes, many are going to have to decide which qualification to go for. Becoming qualified is central to making this transition, especially into new types of work. 

Today in the House of Lords, I will ask the education minister to provide some guidance by trawling through this huge number of qualifications and deciding which are of value to individuals and which to employers, to assessing a kind of rate of return of each qualification. This will be of enormous value in helping guide a new generation facing an era of high unemployment.  It will also help those seeking re-employment to know which qualifications are valued by employers. 

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer. He tweets @Simon_Haskel

Published 3rd November 2020

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published this page in Blog 2020-11-03 08:56:43 +0000

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