Colleges at the heart of our skills-centric future

13th November 2009 at 00:00
Comment: Kevin Brennan

As we emerge from the global banking crisis and rebuild the British economy, it is vital that we start to think about the skills we need to drive growth and boost our competitiveness. It is exactly the right time to be setting out how we're going to get people the skills they need for the future.

We're taking an active government approach to equipping this country for competing on the world stage and thriving in a globalized world. This means making sure we have the skills that underwrite the industries of the future. Skills for high-tech, low carbon-driven growth, for the creative industries, and for creating a Digital Britain.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has estimated that in the next 10 years we will need more than 650,000 people who are skilled at the intermediate technician, associate professional and skilled occupation levels. This amounts to nothing less than the creation of a "new technical class".

We need engineers to lay the cables that will give the vast majority access to high-speed internet, skilled people to build the electric vehicles that will transport us in the future, and technicians to help develop the medicines that will prevent illness and save lives. All this alongside the obvious demand for skilled people that will come from the retail, hospitality and construction sectors.

The Government is committed to investing in these areas, not least because we recognise that it is employment in these high value-added, skilled industries and sectors that drives the growth that underwrites everything else we want to achieve as a society.

Social mobility is crucial to this. Alan Milburn has described how the UK's professions have become more, not less, socially exclusive over time. His report on access to the professions, Unleashing Aspirations, is insightful and prescriptive. And we accept the thrust of that report and its focus on the need to boost apprenticeships and vocational routes into higher education and the professions.

Skilled employment is one of the key determinants of social mobility; we need to create opportunities for hard-working people to put themselves on the path to prosperity. I want to see a society where people from low income and middle income families no longer encounter doors that are shut to their talents.

It just isn't economically viable for people with potential to be excluded from the opportunities that growth will bring. We want people to learn more, earn more, fulfil their ambitions and benefit from the upturn when it comes. Further education colleges are typically leaders in their community, and they will play a key role in helping make this happen - not just as educators but as institutions that can drive the growth of local economies through their presence, engagement and leadership.

Our growth as an economy and as a society depends on having people with the skills to power it. Our skills strategy sets out how we'll rise to the challenge.

  • Kevin Brennan, Minister for further education, apprenticeships, skills and consumer affairs, DCSF.

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