Kate Green speaks at the International Skills Summit
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Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, speaking at the International Skills Summit, said:
“I’m delighted to be here in Dudley, and at this fabulous college, where I had the opportunity to tour the facilities and speak to a number of the impressive young apprentices today.
“It’s great to see the talent and enthusiasm of these young people. Students and the skills system have faced unprecedented challenges following the major disruption to learning we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, but it’s so heartening to tour the Inspired campus here at the College today and meet the next generation of students studying IT, Games, Media Art Design, and Digital Technologies. I’ve really felt the passion they have for their subjects hearing about their aspirations for their future careers in the creative industries.
“It is a huge credit to you here in Dudley and to all the colleges and providers who successfully navigated the many financial and logistical challenges you have faced over the course of the pandemic, enabling students like those I have spoken to today to continue their learning and on their journeys into the world of work.
“And throughout the pandemic, what you have been showing – if it were ever in doubt – is that the apprenticeships and skills system must be an essential part of how we rebuild our country as we recover from the greatest disruption many of us have known in our lives. A wholehearted commitment to a world class vocational education system and apprenticeships – where opportunities to earn, learn, and develop new skills are available to all, whatever their background – will be vital for our future success and prosperity as we rebuild. And for Labour, listening to and working with you in the sector is a top priority.
“I do particularly want to put on record my thanks and support to WorldSkills UK today for the incredible job you do in promoting and facilitating skills development in this country. I know the benefits you bring, both to our economy and skills base, but also for the young people individually, learning and developing crucial transferable skills that are so valuable to employers and industries.
“Skills competitions have the potential to engage and inspire the next generation, as the many successes of Team UK have shown over the years. I first came across your work some years ago at my own local college, Trafford College, and I can testify to the pride and excitement that I saw among the students participating at world class level – they knew they were being challenged to reach the top of their game, and it was just inspiring to see the motivation and commitment that was engendered by the competition in which they took part.
“I couldn’t be prouder to see the talent of young people in our country on show to the whole world. Our task is to ensure we harness this enormous potential, supporting young people’s entry into the high-quality technical skills routes that our country will require.
“And it is especially fitting that I’m be here today in the West Midlands to set out Labour’s plan for a future that must have skills, training and employment at its heart.
“Because the West Midlands has always been a critical hub for manufacturing, engineering, and innovation. It’s a region steeped in a rich history of enterprise that will continue to lead the way in adapting to the changing world of work in the decades to come.
“The next 20 years will create new challenges and imperatives for our skills system. As the coronavirus pandemic, gives way to the social and political challenge of climate change, and the challenge and opportunity of the digital revolution, we will see new industries born as the old decline, creating hundreds of thousands of opportunities, from young people not yet at work to older workers retraining in new, high-wage, low-carbon industries.
“That is why we must ensure people of all ages and backgrounds have the chance to retrain and reskill in new industries as old jobs disappear. Even pre pandemic, the advancement of automation was a prelude to the necessity for retraining and reskilling opportunities to become more widely accessible. But as vocational education and training became more important to our economy, sadly, it became less important to our government. FE funding has been cut almost in half since 2010, and apprenticeship starts among under-25-year-olds are down by 40% since 2016. As vacancies in crucial sectors such as health and social care, engineering and IT have risen, training opportunities in these sectors have disappeared – health and social care student numbers down 153,000 in the three years to 2020, engineering students falling by 71,000 and IT students down 52,000. The skills system must be an equal to the challenges our economy and society face, but after a decade of Conservative government, it is lagging behind, with huge individual and economic potential wasted.
“It surely goes without saying that skills and training must be at the heart of our economic strategy. Skills are essential to support new and emerging businesses, vital for the green recovery that will drive our country to net zero and tackle the climate crisis head on. And as we also face the threat coming out of the pandemic that young people will experience the toughest jobs market for a generation, those in desperate need of new opportunities who have been overlooked by the Government, we must secure the opportunities and the foundation to support them into work, just as Labour’s Jobs Promise would guarantee.
“Yet while hundreds of thousands of young people have experienced unprecedented disruption to their education, from lost learning to exams chaos, and although young workers by far the most likely to have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic – over 600,000 people under 35 lost their jobs in the last year – many of them cannot access the education or training they need.
“The 16-to-19 funding for catch-up has been woefully insufficient, and despite the huge importance of careers advice and guidance, it has not recovered since David Cameron’s Government brutally slashed it. Apprentices, BTEC, and vocational students, have been repeatedly treated as second class students, and there is still no credible plan to get them into the workforce.
“And it’s not just young people. Millions of people who are in low-paid and insecure work, often in sectors that have faced the greatest disruption in the last year, and who have an need to retrain or gain skills to work in a new sector, are locked out of the government’s offers on skills too.
“The Government’s “lifetime skills guarantee” is simply not guaranteed for everyone. It is not guaranteed because people cannot use it if they are already qualified to level 3 even if they need to retrain for a new industry; they cannot use it unless they are getting a qualification that the Government has decided is valuable – which would exclude most of the subjects I saw students studying today – and they cannot use it if they need maintenance support while they’re learning.
“We need to do much better than this.
“So as we study the details of the Government’s Skills Bill published yesterday, Labour will be pressing Ministers to raise their ambitions, to ensure that access to vital training and skilling opportunities are available to all those who need it, and to act far sooner. Millions of people across the country cannot afford to wait four years for the Conservatives to put opportunities in place. If we don’t rise to the urgency of the challenge, another generation face having their life chances jeopardised, with the national economy and local communities suffering as a result.
“Despite a decade of their mismanagement, I do now desperately want the Government to get skills policy right. Labour believes in a high-skill, high-wage economy that offers fulfilling, rewarding work and jobs in which people will take great pride. We need a skills system that genuinely transforms life chances, that creates new opportunities for those who need them, and that has the potential to make our society fairer and our economy – from households to business – more secure and prosperous.
“The urgency now is to set put in place structures to facilitate this. Starting with reform of the apprenticeship levy, which since its introduction has locked out those small and medium sized businesses who have a big role to play in offering opportunities to young people to train and work. Yet apprenticeship starts across the board have plummeted, with young people bearing the brunt of the decline – often in favour of more senior, well-qualified staff pursuing postgraduate level qualifications.
“Fundamental review of the levy is therefore imperative, to bring about the investment in training essential to individuals, employers, and our economy. A reformed Apprenticeship Levy must ensure that those most in need of training can access it, and that there are pathways and support for learners to progress, enabling them to get to the starting gate for high quality apprenticeships, including through traineeships. And a reformed levy must ensure that all businesses and regions of the country can benefit.
“Labour has ideas about how we can approach this. Last year, we put forward a proposal to subsidise wages, which would have seen the levy underspend used to create 85,000 new apprenticeships for young people. We have called for government initiatives (T levels, Kickstart, traineeships and apprenticeships) to work together in a more coherent way. And we must also look at and learn from how apprenticeship systems are conducted across the world, and we can use the expertise of organisations such as WorldSkillsUK and your global network to see how we can adapt the levy to reach those who’d benefit most from it, improving their life chances and our country’s economic success.
“There’s one other aspect of government policy that I believe needs to be radically rethought. An overcentralised system, dictated by Whitehall, will not work for local communities and local economies. It will perpetuate the decline of some of our poorest and most marginalised areas, forcing too many young people to move away in search of work.
“Labour argues that regional and local leaders, who’ve been sidelined from the proposed local skills plans, must be empowered to build a skills system in partnership with colleges like yours, and with local employers. I hope that’s something that resonates with you here in the West Midlands, as it does in my home area of Greater Manchester, in Liverpool, in London. Our metro mayors, local leaders and combined authorities need a major role in determining the training offer in their area so that it reinforces and supports their regional and local regeneration and industrial strategies, creating quality jobs, and ensuring local people in every town and city in every part of the country have the chance to take them up.
“Coming here today, meeting the apprentices, has reminded me of the huge talent in our country, the pride young people have in developing their potential, and the amazing work that colleges do to enable learners to grow their skills and make the most of their lives. It’s reminded me that our young people can compete with the very best in the world. And it’s a powerful reminder that we can’t afford to waste that enthusiasm and ability, and that it’s the job of politicians to support you with the structures and processes that enable the fantastic work you do to secure the future of our young people, enabling us become the high skill high wage economy I want to see.
“Today I want to thank you for everything you are doing, and to assure you that you will always have Labour’s fullest support.”