On the morning after the EU referendum, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) issued a statement saying that the possible ending of free movement of labour underlined the need for the UK to develop more home-grown talent through skills training. Attending the Conservative Party conference, I heard the prime minister and home secretary say the same.
Interestingly, apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon views Brexit as a red herring – in his opinion, more training is needed anyway to improve UK productivity and drive greater social justice; Brexit just makes the challenge even greater.
The minister makes a good point. In our submission to the Treasury ahead of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23 November, we haven’t mentioned Brexit.
What we want would yield benefits for employers and individuals, as well as a post-Brexit economy
The aftermath of the referendum led to responsibility for skills being transferred back to the Department for Education, resulting in a more even consideration of the interests of the learner alongside the employer.
We have also urged education secretary Justine Greening and the Treasury to start looking at a fully integrated approach to skills and employment, involving much closer joint working between the DfE and the Department for Work and Pensions. This could lead to less complicated entry points and pathways to sustainable employment for every individual.
Not surprisingly, our submission has plenty to say about the apprenticeship reforms. We have reminded the Treasury that currently £1 billion of the £1.5 billion apprenticeship budget is used by non-levy payers to offer opportunities on the programme.
Guaranteed funding needed
There is no guarantee that this money will still be available to employers if the levy pot is the only source of programme funding. Employer feedback to AELP’s member providers increasingly suggests that the pot will be consumed by greater demand from levy payers for more costly higher and degree-level apprenticeships, and by levy payers taking on additional apprentices not covered by the money in their digital accounts but attracting the 90 per cent state subsidy. We are therefore asking for a guaranteed level of apprenticeship funding for non-levy payers each year.
As for English devolution, one unfortunate consequence has been the likely splitting of the traineeship budget between a national one for 16- to 18-year-olds and a devolved one for 19- to 24-year-olds. This would lead to fractured availability of this programme for the older group, as local procurement strategies would inevitably vary from area to area, damaging its usefulness as a key entry route to apprenticeships, especially for less advantaged young people. It is clear to us that traineeships at any age should remain a nationally procured programme and not be devolved.
AELP has also asked that the Autumn Statement recognises maths, English and digital skills are vital for all ages, with a minimum need of level 2 for the whole population. It stuns me that this agenda isn’t at the forefront of the government’s skills strategy. The evidence is unequivocal; there is an incredibly positive social and economic effect when individuals meet this minimum level of ability. This is for all ages, no matter their personal circumstances.
A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report emphasises the dire situation we are in and it is a disgrace that this country languishes near the bottom of the league tables for literacy and numeracy.
So our Treasury shopping list would equally yield benefits for employers and individual learners, as well as being good for a post-Brexit economy – not that we mentioned the last bit.
Mark Dawe is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers