Chris Jones responds to the Government's Spring Budget
‘It’s good to see training and technical education front and centre of today’s Budget. The £500m pledged today to enhance the amount of training available for 16- to 19-year-olds on technical programmes is certainly a step in the right direction and I hope this level of funding will be sustained in the future.
For too long, the FE sector has suffered from a lack of investment or focus – even though improving the UK’s skills base has to be a top priority if we want to improve the UK’s productivity and competitiveness.
‘It’s also encouraging to see an emphasis on a robust work experience element in ‘T levels’. Employers consistently tell us that real-life experience of the workplace is vital in preparing young people for the workplace. However, delivering a work experience programme is a serious undertaking for employers – particularly if we want to ensure all placements are high-quality. This can only work if businesses are supported by both the Government and the FE sector, so that offering work experience placements is a benefit, not a burden.
‘The Chancellor’s announcement on maintenance loans for higher technical education is a positive move. These will help to level the playing field between university and technical routes, and enable students from all backgrounds to pursue technical routes. However these loans will only be available to students on higher technical education courses at levels 4-6 in National Colleges and Institutes of Technology. Rather than focus these loans on a narrow pool of institutions, why not open the field so more young people have the chance to benefit? For technical education to flourish in the way Britain needs to be more productive, students must have as much choice as possible.
‘Equally, the loans should not take away from the fact that businesses also have a responsibility to invest in the training of their employees. I am pleased that the Government has highlighted the need to embed lifelong learning in Britain’s future employment system. Businesses must invest in training to boost their productivity, address skills gaps and develop their leaders. This has never mattered more than in today’s economy.
‘All in all, the funding for pilot studies to test the effectiveness of different approaches to lifelong learning represents a promising starting point. Ultimately, the test will be in how businesses respond once best practice models are identified, and whether training is offered not as a nice to have but as a key part of both the employment journey, and business strategy. Businesses that prioritise investing in skills development to support new and existing employees will be rewarded by being well-prepared to meet the challenges of the future.
‘While today’s Budget contains much to provide hope, as ever, the real test will be in what happens next. Without effective implementation, these reforms simply will not deliver the skills reforms to help Britain’s businesses thrive now and in the future.’