"Fundamental culture change” needed to address skills shortage in UK

12 Apr 2017

The Open University and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have come together to call for a national skills strategy with long term investment and reform in adult education in England to address the skills crisis. The organisations want to work with the Government to shape adult learning across Further and Higher Education in England, and say that speed, scale, partnerships and investment are key to achieving the home grown talent that is needed in the run up to leaving the European Union. The call comes as part of both the OU’s and AoC’s responses to the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

Steve Hill, External Engagement Director at The Open University said: “We welcome and support the focus on developing skills in the Industrial Strategy, and we must seize the chance that this presents to develop lifelong learning, which will rectify the skills crisis that the UK is facing and raise productivity. We need to give adults flexible and affordable ways to retrain and develop new skills; this is a massive opportunity to deliver a fundamental culture change which could bring big benefits to the economy.”

Ian Ashman, President of the Association of Colleges, said: “We welcome the recognition by the Government that skills development is a critical part of the Industrial Strategy. However, if we want to provide adults with proper opportunities to improve their existing skills, learn new ones or retrain for a new job, there must be a renewed focus on access to education and training. We now call on the Government to take the next step and lead the change to create a culture of lifelong learning in our society, for the benefit of employers, individuals and our economy.”

The organisations say that change in adult learning needs to incorporate four key considerations:

  • Speed. We need to start to skill and reskill people right now.
  • Scale. The strategy must be ambitious about the numbers of people it plans to reach, and be flexible in the variety of learning approaches used, including learning in institutions, in the workplace and digital and online learning
  • Partnership. We need to build on existing partnerships and establish new coalitions to deliver the change
  • Investment. We need to build and encourage investment in skills from the Government, individuals and employers.

The OU and AoC also identify key elements to help Government encourage lifelong learning:

  • An education and careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) service that is available to people of all ages
  • Clear progression pathways for adults, including apprentices, which help people build careers through enhanced skills
  • A national credit rating and transfer service for recognition of prior education
  • Personalised learning accounts -‘Help to Learn ISAs’ which could be used for approved learning or training
  • Guaranteed total apprenticeship spending, particularly with more funds available for smaller employers, who are outside the scope of the levy, reserving funds to support quality and access.

AoC's response to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper can be found here .