Education and Training Reforms

Post-18 education and training reforms were announced in September 2020. But unemployment is on the rise. And further updates are not due until later in 2021. Will these reforms come ‘just in time’ to support a post-covid recovery? Or are job seekers finding their own routes to upskill?

Why does it matter?

In a recession, recruiters and businesses would expect to be flooded with applications. There have been reports of 1000 + applicants for some roles. However, this is not happening as frequently as might be expected. This suggests that talent pools are not going to be the stable, sure bet that some are hoping for.

Where are the candidates going?

According to the ONS, Public Administration and Defence were the only sectors with an increase in vacancies. Human health and social work remained the largest sector. This was in terms of vacancies and ratios. This makes sense when considered with recent press reports. According to data published by the UK’s major news outlets, there has been a marked increase in applications to the health and social care sector. Sky News reported more than 60,000 people have applied to study nursing. A good proportion of those are school leavers. However, more than 10,000 applications were submitted by mature students. This figure is supported in an article by Emma Yeomans in The Times. The data  was taken from Ucas admissions service. Emma Yoemans suggests that the increase is an indicator that candidates – from undergraduates to the over 35’s – are looking for safe and meaningful career options.

Education and Training reforms – the Government’s skills drive

Reports of many of last year’s graduates being unable to secure jobs will have played into this. Therefore, it is unsurprising that students enrolling at Uni are looking for secure career paths. The Times also reported increases in applications for engineering, medicine, dentistry, teaching and architecture. This may well prove to be good news for whomever is in government in 3-5 years’ time. This is because it seems the application data suggests an increase in applications to study for careers on the occupation shortage list (OSL). However, it is likely that employers will need to rely on migration in order to continue to fill roles on the OSL in the meantime.

That is unless the planned education and training reforms are implemented swiftly upon the release of the policy. After a number of issues with the apprenticeship levy, many businesses will be watching closely to see if these reforms culminate in higher costs.

As things stand, the offer of fully funded college courses for those without A-Level Education is set to be available from April 2021. The funding will be paid through the National Skills Fund.

However, the release date the whitepaper on the flexible higher education loans has yet to be announced. According to the government website, the aim of the planned reform is as follows:

‘Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high-quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future.’

Is there more that needs to be done?

The reforms to education and training have been welcomed by many. However, opposition parties are calling for more details on post-covid recovery. In November 2020, the Labour party called on the government to create 400,000 more jobs in the manufacturing sector. The government’s September announcement already covered training. However, it did not touch on whether it would seek to create more jobs. Labour’s proposal calls on the government to ‘bring forward planned capital investment’ and to dedicate it to ‘low-carbon sectors – at least £30 billion in the next 18 months… to support up to an estimated 400,000 additional jobs.’

Whether Labour’s plan will be enough to provide a boost cannot really be verified at present. Much of the data available for the jobs market is currently considered ‘experimental’. The ONS and publications such as the FT are warning that the data can only be used as a rough guide. Conclusions should be drawn cautiously.