Covid-19: '£3bn National Skills Fund must be released'

To tackle the rise in unemployment post-Covid, the government must redirect the £3bn National Skills Fund, say City & Guilds

Kate Parker

£3bn National Skills Fund can't be for high-level skills only

The government must release and redirect the £3 billion National Skills Fund to support and retrain those who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19, City & Guilds has urged. 

A report by the training organisation, published this morning, shows that more than half (59 per cent) of those currently out of work say they cannot afford to pay for training. 

The research also found that a third (33 per cent) of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who were in employment said that they wouldn't be able to afford to retrain, and 26 per cent said they didn’t know how to access funding to pay for a course.

The Learning and Work Institute previously predicted that employment will double to 4.5 million by the end of the year – and it is expected that young people and those who are the lowest skilled will be most affected. 

News: Schools should be given apprenticeship targets, says Halfon 

More: National Skills Fund has to level adult skills

Need to know: Conservative manifesto: £3bn for ‘national skills fund’

In their report today, City & Guilds set out three key recommendations for the government: 

  1. Urgently redirect existing skills funding to prevent a whole generation of lost workers:

    Release £3 billion of unspent National Skills Fund to support post-Covid reskilling.

    Broaden the adult education budget criteria to support bite-sized, online and flexible learning to quickly retrain people back into work.

    Extend apprenticeship levy funds to support traineeships and use any underspent levy to pay apprentices wages in the short term, focused on younger apprentices who are more likely to be unemployed. 
  2. A call on employers and education providers to work together to forefront digital transformation through digital skills investment and online learning tools, with the right investment from the government to allow this to happen.
  3. Use some of the NSF to create Lifelong Learning and Employment Hubs within the regional areas most impacted by unemployment to act as "one-stop skills and jobs shop" to support reskilling back into meaningful employment.

A skills tax credit

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group, said that the government must act now to provide lifelines for those most in need. 

She said: “To counter the mass unemployment which, left unchecked, will scar the futures of a generation, we are calling on the government to urgently redirect existing skills funding to ensure that the budgets set aside for further education are being allocated in the right way, with the right focus to support skills development that promotes social mobility. There is no more time to consult, we have both the means to make this happen and the evidence to prove how much it is needed. This is our ‘act now’ moment.”

Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, suggested that the government should introduce a "skills tax credit" to offer to companies who take on the unemployed or those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He said: "The prime minister's recent announcement guaranteeing an apprenticeship for every young person is hugely exciting, but we must also do more to ensure that everyone around the UK has the chance to retrain, reskill and find employment. To achieve this, the correct allocation of funds and investment in apprenticeships, FE and skills must be the number one priority for the chancellor.

"As well as unlocking underused, existing skills funding, I am calling on the government to introduce a skills tax credit to offer to companies who take on the unemployed or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We must offer businesses support and incentives to invest in the people who need it most and give them a chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity – and, at the same time, help meet this country's skills needs."

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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