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UK skills system 'out of step' with economic needs, report warns

The UK’s skills training system is increasingly out of step with the needs of the economy and needs urgent change, according to a new report by the Skills Commission.

The report, Still in Tune? The Skills System and the Changing Structures of Work, published today, highlights four "strategic alerts" that need attention from the government and the skills sector to create a “vocational education system that is totally attuned to work”. 

These are: uncertainty around the responsibility for training; declining social mobility; fragmentation in the skills system; and an “alarming” policy dissonance between government departments.

Inquiry co-chair Dame Ruth Silver said “significant and cultural” changes were needed if the UK workforce was to have the skills the economy needs

“But this shift cannot be achieved by focusing on individual components of the system in isolation from each other,” she said. “If this inquiry has taught us anything it is that we need greater ‘systems thinking’ from all players to ensure that we are well equipped to meet the challenges of a changing labour market and society.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, called the report an “intelligent and useful analysis”.

““We agree that there has been a degree of fragmentation in the system in recent years, not least by the arrival of many new types of institution and ongoing reform to qualifications and curriculum. It is worrying, although not surprising, to read about the evidence from many users of the system that this fragmentation has made it hard to engage.”

She said colleges can play the “leading role” in bringing coherence to local and national skills systems.

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (Niace), said nothing will change unless a new approach is taken.

“We need to move away from the sole focus of getting young people into work,” he said.

“This is, of course, important. But we must widen our thinking to also include those already in work, or those looking for work, because young people and apprentices will need ongoing CPD and skills development throughout their careers.”

The report is the latest in a series of analyses from various organisations highlighting weaknesses in the UK’s skills system, including from the British Chambers of Commerce , the CBI  and the OECD.

 Related stories:

Work-based learning must be included in all vocational courses, says OECD – November 2014

Young people lack skills needed for world of work, says British Chambers of Commerce – October 2014

Skills policies failing to meet workplace needs, report finds – September 2014

Education failing to prepare young people for work, employers claims – July 2014

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