Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
4 February 2021updated 08 Sep 2021 7:09am

Spotlight Leader: Skills and the road to recovery

The pandemic will change jobs, education and training forever.

By Spotlight

Even before the pandemic-induced economic crisis, the UK was dealing with stagnant productivity and a major skills gap. In 2018, research by the Open University found that the skills shortage was costing employers some £6.3bn a year in additional training for lower-skilled staff, temporary staffing, and other costs. Some 91 per cent of UK organisations reported having struggled to find people with the right skills over the previous 12 months.

As the economy evolves, this will only become more acute. In 2020, a CBI report found that nine in ten workers will need some form of reskilling by 2030.

Alongside its oft-repeated rhetoric on levelling up the UK economy, this government has also made a point of its commitment to boosting further education (FE) and skills development to plug this gap.

Read more: How Covid-19 couldbe a great leveller for women at work

Last year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the government was dropping the commitment to getting 50 per cent of school-leavers into university one year after it was first achieved, and pivoting to focus on vocational education. In a speech on this new direction last July, Williamson derided the “inbuilt snobbishness” towards FE and pledged to work towards a “world-class, German-style further education system”. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The government’s Skills for Jobs white paper, published in January, fleshed out the ideas floated in that speech in more than 30 proposals, some building on old ideas.

Content from our partners
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate
How deception can become your friend

Read more: Why diversity schemes fail – and how they can succeed

Key among the new ones were Local Skills Improvement Plans, which will be piloted in 2021, backed by a £65m Strategic Development Fund, and a greater role for employers in designing vocational courses. The latter is based, according to the white paper, on German best practice.

But these reforms cannot paper over long-term funding gaps. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, FE “has seen the largest falls in per-pupil funding of any sector of the education system since 2010-11”. Per student, funding for FE and sixth-form colleges fell by 12 per cent in real terms to 2019–20.

As the Centre for Cities think tank outlines in its latest Cities Outlook report, if investment in further education is essential to economic recovery and “levelling up” in the long term, then any boost to FE will require the funds to make up that gap, and make up for lost time.

This article originally appeared in the Spotlight report on Skills and Apprenticeships. You can click here for the full edition.

Topics in this article :