What would it mean to truly level up people’s skills across the UK?
At the forefront of the Government’s levelling up agenda sits education and skills, and we at techUK are glad to see this. The tech sector is keen to equip people with the skills, opportunities, and careers to get into digital jobs, in particular to support those displaced by the pandemic and from under-represented backgrounds. The Levelling Up White Paper not only highlights that more needs to be done to ensure opportunities in are accessible to all, but focuses on well-being and social capital. The framework the paper offers to address disparities between regions and communities is welcome. techUK stands ready to work with Government to progress the details to make this a reality.
Skills and training
Government promises that by 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas. Investment of £3.8bn in skills is planned by 2024-25 and a Lifetime Skills Guarantee in England, enabling 11m adults to gain an A Level or equivalent qualification for free.
The funding of courses and the governance of colleges will be overhauled in line with employers’ needs. Local Skills Improvement Plans, together with supporting funding, will be set up across England to set out the key changes needed in a place to make technical skills training more responsive to skills needs. Nine new Institutes of Technology with strong employer links will be established in England, helping to boost higher technical skills in STEM subjects. Local Skills Improvement Plans will be rolled out with funding across England, giving local employer bodies and stakeholders a statutory role in planning skills training in their area, to better meet local labour market needs. techUK has undertaken work into how the tech sector can directly or indirectly support the delivery of high skilled, high wage jobs outside major metropolitan areas due to the expansion and uptake of working from home/flexible solutions across our nations and regions.
To harness talent and opportunity in disadvantaged areas, further investment is needed to expand short modular digital skills courses that focus on job readiness. techUK is leading the debate on how Government and industry can work together to champion and expand the development and take up of short modular online courses, including bootcamps. They have been proven to be a flexible, affordable and effective route for learners to acquire productive digital skills that are valued by employers. More modular learning can drive life-long skill building and offer easier avenues for people transitioning between sectors. Education and learning providers should work more closely with employers to understand and deliver programmes that develop the skill sets that employers need. Industry-led accreditation focused on job-readiness would act as a positive signpost to build employer and learner confidence in a market with more diverse provision. While Government is currently focusing on addressing the discrepancy between Further Education and Higher Education, it should also look beyond these traditional routes to consider new approaches to learning that are fit for purpose for the 21st Century.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has written about why levelling up is so important to him.
Supporting young people
The paper outlines that £560 million will be invested in young people for new and improved youth facilities, services and experiences in England where they are needed most, launching a new National Youth Guarantee so that by 2025 every young person in England will have access to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer. This is great to see considering almost two-thirds of those who initially lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic were under the age of 25.
Both Government and businesses across the UK are working together to improve careers advice in schools so that young people are aware of the high-quality options available for both technical and academic routes into digital careers, and that they have access to information about the variety of careers that digital technology pathways have to offer. But there is more we can do to highlight the number and breath of opportunities available for people of all ages and all skill levels. techUK is a part of the consortium developing the UK Cyber Security Council which will look to develop clearer career pathways and support the profession. Instigated by Government but delivered by a coalition of industry partners, this is a good example of progress that can be made together.
Data, data, data
Government will create a new data hub to make people know what skills employers need. A Future Skills Unit is to be established at the Department for Education in a bid to identify the type of education and training that should be made available in different areas of England. This unit will be a multi-year project. This data will be used across central and local government and will be accessible to providers and the general public.
techUK cannot emphasis how important this is. Good data is necessary to show changes in the demands in the digital technology employment market over time and how sought-after skills have evolved. There is a growing mismatch in the supply and demand of digital skills in the UK, which will be accentuated by the economic fallout of the pandemic. More skills funding for local leaders such as Mayors and LEPs is good for targeting at provision but it’s clear they need the data to make informed decisions which will help look at the need for advanced skills as well as basic skills. The unit will be in addition to the existing skills and productivity board, which was set up by the Department for Education last year.
techUK has also launched the Local Digital Capital Index, a tool designed to assist policy makers locally and nationally to determine how funding, resources and energy can assist levelling up and make the case for strengthening the tech ecosystems in our nations and regions.
Government has commitment to improving “perceived well-being” in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing, by 2030. The paper claims that an improvement on the issues outlined taken together, such as: pay, employment, productivity, will help achieve the overarching ambition to improve well-being in every area of the UK.
techUK is interested in this holistic approach as it would require a fundamental shift in how local government, industry, and civil society operates. techUK is also keen to understand how Government sees the pace of change—is this quick enough? The need for rapid progress is evident in further techUK analysis on the White Paper.
techUK CEO, Julian David, said:
"The Levelling Up White Paper is a welcome step forward in offering a more balanced economy across the UK. Technology and the rapid growth of digital will play a vital part in that journey, supporting people from the earliest years of a child’s life through their career to wellbeing in old age.
"While the announcement is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that the funds are allocated to support the UK’s most overlooked communities. The UK needs a ready pipeline of talent across all its nations and regions to ensure its workforce has the skills to compete internationally.
"That’s why techUK produced our Local Digital Capital Index, to aid the sector and policy makers in the delivery of actions that will help the UK to level up. The UK tech sector will continue to be engaged and look to improve connectivity to the areas that need it, to develop the skills for those who require them, aid regeneration, and developing smarter towns and cities, and use data to drive performance and reform. We will play our part in Levelling Up."