The launch of Learning and Work Institute this month comes as radical changes are afoot across the breadth of the learning, skills and employment arenas. For an organisation that researches what works, influences policy, develops new thinking and implements new approaches, this radical agenda is exciting. As an organisation with an ambitious vision – for everyone to realise their potential and ambitions in life, learning and work – it’s also a time of opportunities for positive change.
Halving the disability gap, full employment, 3 million apprentices, the apprenticeship levy, universal credit, devolution and area reviews are all part of what can seem like a bewildering array of policy changes. Across all of them there are three key requirements for successful implementation: a new mindset, new relationships and new approaches.
The chancellor’s announcements last year showed clearly that investment in the delivery of learning, skills and employment will come increasingly from private and individual sources rather than solely from public sources. The apprenticeship levy is a great example, but so too is the extension of advanced learner loans to those over 18 and the switch from maintenance grants to loans in higher education. This shift is profound.
While more employers and people will have the purchasing power to buy their apprenticeships and learning, colleges and training providers will lose the relative certainty of contracts and direct funding from government. The mindset needed to shift from one funding model to the other is enormous. The risks are different.
The shift in mindset needs to inform a whole new set of relationships. For colleges and training providers, the relationships with 19-plus learners and employers will change as they exercise their powers as paying customers.
We won’t, though, have an open market in which customers choose what they want and can afford. That would be too simple. Instead, colleges and providers will need to maintain relationships with Whitehall and local commissioners, which will set rules, priorities, exclusions and targeting that will constrain choice.
The new relationships between Whitehall departments and local commissioners will be difficult, with tensions. The former will want simple, consistent and tidy national programmes and the latter will want services reflecting the local labour market and local political priorities. To make this even more complex, as budgets decrease, commissioners will be trying to knit together services across housing, health, employment and skills; just think of the new relationships needed to make it work.
What’s clear to us at Learning and Work Institute is that the new policy agenda needs new approaches and integrated services. An example of this is the failure of the Work Programme to support people with disabilities or health barriers into work. For them, we need to see proper integration of employment, health, care, housing and skills services and support all wrapped around their individual needs, hopes and wants.
The good news is Learning and Work Institute is ready to assist and we’re ambitious about improvements that can be won for people, families, communities and employers.
Our publication Local People, Local Growth sets out the need for a new focus on outcomes in employment, learning and pay progression to help make devolution work effectively. We make it clear that a devolved world requires more of the research we do to share what works across localities. I can’t think of a better time to launch a new organisation with a vision for a society where we can all realise our ambitions and potential.
David Hughes is chief executive of Learning and Work Institute @LWdavidH