We need 'rocket boosters' to close skills gap, says Robert Halfon

2nd November 2016 at 14:39
Ministers admits that the government needs to confront the 'horrifying' reality of the UK's skills deficit

The skills deficit in the UK is "horrifying" and the government needs to use "rocket boosters" to close the gap on European countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon has said.

Mr Halfon, speaking for the first time before the Commons sub-committee on education, skills and the economy, said that the government needed to “put rocket boosters” on in terms of addressing the country’s productivity gap – which he said was 18 per cent wider than other countries in the G7.

I think we need to be honest about the skills deficit in our country. If I can just quote you a few, what I would call, horrifying statistics. We have a productivity gap as relative to most other European countries – 18 per cent lower than the G7. We’re ranked 22 out of 28 [countries] in the European Union for the proportion of employees in vocational training, 18 out of 26 for the number of hours of training, [and] training has declined over the past 20 years.

"Australia, Austria, Germany and Switzerland have three times as many apprentices as the United Kingdom, and only 10 per cent of people hold higher-level technical qualifications, so we do have a problem...We have to put rocket boosters [on] in terms of addressing the skills deficit in our country. That is why we’re reforming the standards, that is why they’re employer-led, that’s why we’re reforming tech education, that is why we’re making the difficult choices. [And] that is why we’ve introduced the levy."

Minister for apprenticeships, skills...and careers

Mr Halfon also said that careers guidance in schools was a crucial first step in his goal of increasing the number of school students starting apprenticeships.

He told MPs: "The numbers going in are improving but there’s a long, long way to go...When you asked me what my title was, and I said 'further education and skills and apprenticeships', I should have said 'and careers minister'. It’s a very important part, and what I said...about raising the prestige of apprenticeships, none of this will work unless we really transform the careers guidance in our schools across the country, and that is one of my priorities in terms of my careers brief."

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