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Skills are still the key to equality

If it isn't broken, it doesn't need to be fixed. So what are we to make of the news, reported on our front page this week, that the "supply" of people with qualifications outstrips the "demand" from employers?

The society in which there will be no jobs for unskilled people - predicted by former Confederation of British Industry chief Sir Digby Jones - is looking a long way off. In fact, it seems there are plenty of jobs to go round for those seeking unskilled work. But if anyone thinks this means government can turn the heat down on further education and reduce its commitment to colleges, they would be making a mistake.

Qualifications are not a direct indication of skill, as Alan Johnson, the non-graduate Education Secretary, must surely agree. Increasingly, however, qualifications are the passport to a range of careers which are closed to all but the most determined unqualified entrants to the job market. As such, they remain a key to opportunity and earning potential for millions attempting to break through that toughest of glass ceilings - socio-economic inequality.

The real justification for spending on skills is not about "supply and demand". It is about creating a society in which a person's prosperity is determined by endeavour rather than circumstance of birth. That is what drives lecturers and makes their vocation so admirable.

Investing in colleges remains no less important with the poverty gap becoming wider each year. Businesses are well placed to inform vocational course content. But it is the needs of students - and potential students - which provide the moral and political imperative for investment in skills.

If there is "demand" for what colleges do, it comes primarily from students. Their voice must be heard.

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