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ESF - Background to reports

Report Segment: ESF - Background

The Leitch Report (2006) sets the context for skills development and a productivity challenge for the UK as a whole. In order to become a ‘world leader’ in skills there needs to be a greater emphasis on engaging with employers and creating a genuinely ‘demand-led’ system for the planning and delivery of skills.

Last year’s (November 2009) “Skills For Growth” provided a “national skills strategy” building on the themes developed in the 2006 Leitch report and adopting many of the recommendations from the UKCES Simplification of Skills report (2008). Along with several workforce development strategies the report proposed much greater flexibility between the division of “in” or “out” of work for those wishing to upskill.

In “A Strategy for Sustainable Growth” (July 2010), a new agenda is proposed to achieve a “more balanced and sustainable – both economically and environmentally – model of growth to address our long term challenges”. (A Strategy for Sustainable Growth (July 2010) Vince Cable – Foreword).

Vince Cable goes on to suggest that the UK economy has been “reliant on debt, inflated house prices and a swollen financial sector. Opportunity was spread unevenly, with the private sector weak across swathes of the country, and we were not investing enough in preparing for a greener, low carbon future. (Ibid – Foreword)

The new strategy promotes the efficient operation of markets to support growth; smarter public and private investment in the economy, including creating a highly skilled workforce; and encouraging entrepreneurialism and individual engagement in the economy to support growth. (ibid Page 4)

Whilst a skilled workforce is seen as paramount, a new emphasis on individual responsibility is highlighted, to the point where ultimately “they would be willing to support the costs of their own education”.

The consultation on the future direction of skills policy – Skills for Sustainable Growth (July 2010) is equally forthright about the way forward:

“It is essential that learners should gain the skills that are most useful to them, economically and socially. The previous Government did this by making choices for individuals which were promoted through training subsidies. The system was held to account for delivering what Government thought was needed”.

It concludes “We think this was the wrong model…. Rather, employers and learners should have access to good information about the value of different types of learning and what it might help them achieve and about the quality of different providers. They then must be free to choose the training they think best suits their needs and therefore more prepared to invest in it. The training system must be easier to navigate and should be held to account by its customers rather than by Government.” (Skills for Sustainable Growth (July 2010) Executive Summary)

At the same time, The 2010 update report for Ambition 2020 shows that the UK is making progress on skills against its international counterparts in a number of areas: we are ahead of target for higher level qualifications and there is even a danger of an over-supply of skills in some sectors of the UK economy. Moreover, STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) continue to be taken up as a degree choice and we are performing well in the supply of STEM graduates compared to EU benchmarks. (Ambition 2020 pp 66-67). Whilst on adult lifelong targets we are over-performing there is concern that the UK’s workforce is undertaking less training than it should be. This is a particularly important indicator given that 80% of the 2020 UK workforce is already in work. (Ambition 2020 page 8).

This is reinforced in a recent joint EU-China report: “Both China and the EU share a common aim to upskill the labour force and recognise that the majority of those that need upskilling are already in work.” (New Skills New Jobs: CHINA AND THE EU- Foreword July 2010).