The new Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a bold ambition but much more needs to be done to make this a reality

By Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD.

Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister of a new Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a bold ambition but much more needs to be done to make this a reality.

The measures set out today, such as providing free college courses to adults without A levels to help boost their employment opportunities and the expansion of the number of free online courses via the Skills Tool kit are of course welcome.

It is also positive to see more funding for SMEs to take on apprentices and to establish specialist skills boot camps but these steps must just be the start of a radically improved skills system.

Much more action is required to improve access to skills development and employability support for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs already or who will be made redundant over the coming winter.

The Chancellor is unfortunately right not all jobs can be saved but everybody who loses their job should receive the careers advice and access to training, fully funded for those that need it, to help them find employment in sectors that have remained resilient or have even continued to grow.

We will also need higher levels of employer engagement with FE colleges at a local level to ensure there is alignment between courses provided and the skills needed by business. There is additionally a need not just to support the development of technical skills but also of core essential or employability skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. The CIPD has worked as part of the Essential Skills Taskforce over the last 18 months to develop an essential skills framework which sets out the core skills employers require to complement technical skills in the workplace. This can help education and training providers prepare people for employment.

Hopefully the Government will provide further details of how it is going to really create a step change in life-long learning in its further education white paper this autumn.

In the meantime, the CIPD believes there are three further actions the Government should take urgently to help people who have already been made redundant or who will lose their job over the coming months:

· Invest £1bn in enhancing the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response service to provide bespoke sector-based training and employability support to 250,000 workers who lose their jobs over the winter

· Reform the apprenticeship levy to make it more flexible so firms can use it for other forms of accredited training and skills development, including for employees working reduced hours under the Job Support Scheme or for those being made redundant

· Provide funding to enable small and medium sized employers using the Job Support Scheme to use online training to develop the skills of their workers on reduced hours under the scheme when they are not working.

The Government has committed to £8M of funding for digital skills boot camps to support individuals affected by covid-19 retrain access jobs, with roll outs to other sectors planned for next year. Bootcamps aim to provide flexible training, aligned to the needs of employers, alongside guaranteed job interviews on completion of training. While these measures are welcome, we believe that given the scale of the challenge we must be more ambitious. That is why we are calling for significantly more investment to support individuals who are at risk of redundancy, or unemployed, retrain and move into new industries. There is also a need to ensure that intensive, and ongoing, wrap round support is provided. This should be based on the US WorkAdvance scheme which has shown the value of targeted and sector-based training and job brokerage support to help people retrain and move to careers in new growth industries . We believe additional investment to boost the existing Rapid Response service in this way could help transition many more job seekers much more quickly into new work in sectors where they are required.

Reforming the apprenticeship levy to make it a more flexible training levy is something the CIPD has long called for but the case for reform has never been more urgent. It is crucial employers have more flexibility over how they use their levy funding so they can use it to provide other forms of accredited training and skills development as well as apprenticeships. Training and L&D budgets are under huge pressure at the moment and making this change would unlock more flexible training and retraining opportunities. Levy paying firms using the JSS would be able to use their levy funding to provide training for staff working reduced hours or at risk of redundancy. It should also mean that the employer incentive to use apprenticeships to retrain existing employees is reduced, resulting in a greater share of genuine apprenticeships going to young people entering the workforce.

We also believe Government should create a £30m small firm training fund to help small firms with under 50 staff provide on-line training to employees working reduced hours on the JSS.

Addressing these three calls along with the measures announced today would start to add more substance to the PM’s Lifetime Learning Guarantee and begin to address the fall in investment in training in the UK and the chronic underinvestment in lifelong learning.

But we will need to see much more support and investment in further education, a massive expansion in the National Retraining Scheme based on evidence of what works and policy innovation such as portable skills wallets or individual learning accounts to incentivise and fund individuals to invest in their own skills.

Greater investment in the UK’s human capital, building on the National Skills Fund, is crucial to the UK’s resilience during the pandemic and to boosting our competitiveness and productivity for the long-term.

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