Welsh Government’s work-based learning plans outlined to training providers

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NTfW Conference speakers - L-R Peter Rees, Ewart Keep, Julie James AM, John Graystone, Helen Hoffmann and Toni Pearce.

NTfW Conference speakers – L-R Peter Rees, Ewart Keep, Julie James AM, John Graystone, Helen Hoffmann and Toni Pearce.

The Welsh Government’s ambitious plans for work-based learning were outlined to the nation’s training providers at their annual conference.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Julie James told members of the National Training Federation for Wales’ (NTfW), at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, that the plans would only become reality with “responsible and committed action” from all work-based learning stakeholders.

Her wide ranging speech came against a background of the UK Government’s plan to introduce an apprenticeship levy on large employers. The move has forced the Welsh Government to defer publication of its own implementation plan for co-investment of apprenticeships until the full details of the levy are known, possibly not until the spending review at the end of November.

“I am entirely supportive of the principle that employers should contribute towards the costs of apprenticeships,” said the Deputy Minister. “But what is clear is that the levy cuts across our successful co-investment strategy and we fear that the move to a higher skilled economy, which Wales needs, will be lost in translation.”

The Welsh Government’s future plans include increasing the number of 16 to 18-year-olds starting apprenticeships to 6,000 and a greater emphasis on higher skilled apprenticeships, particularly in IT Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector.

She wants to better prepare apprentices and further education leavers who choose self-employment, to improve synergies between further education and apprenticeships and to fund prescribed higher education qualifications undertaken as part of a Higher Apprenticeship framework.

Referring to “skills surges”, she said by 2022, half the workforce will need qualifications at level four and above if they are to operate effectively in the workforce.

Moves to help young people navigate the “bewildering” range of learning and employment options available to them were announced. From November, all post-16 provision would be published on-line by schools, colleges and work based learning providers through the Common Area Prospectus.

Skills Gateway will then provide a comprehensive assessment and referral service to help individuals and businesses seeking skills support in Wales and Employment Routes will map and organise employability provision.

The Welsh Government is evaluating its Traineeship programme to ensure it fully meets the needs of all eligible young people, the Work Ready Programme will continue to support unemployed adults with employability skills and work experience opportunities while a new Adult Employability Programme will start from next April.

The Deputy Minister also revealed the Welsh Government’s desire to take over responsibility for delivering Department for Work and Pensions employment support programmes in Wales.

“We must continue to grow apprenticeships in priority sectors and stretch them to meet emerging skill shortages in technical and highly skilled occupations, such as engineering and IT, that will drive productivity,” she said.

“Structurally, we want to place jobs back at the heart of our system making ‘earning and learning’ the cultural norm. We are taking forward action that will ensure further education provision and apprenticeships are better connected, more flexible and provide a clear line of sight into higher level skills.”

The conference theme, ‘Vision 20:20 – Towards a World Class Skills System’, aimed to identify what more can be done to build a world class skills system in Wales.

Ewart Keep, director of the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance at Oxford University, thought the apprenticeship levy was a bad idea but could understand the logic of it.

UK employers had been spending less on training since before the last recession and productivity was low compared to the rest of the world, which didn’t augur well for the future.

“You are expecting employers to start putting their hands in their wallets against a background trend of them spending less on training,” he added. “But the Government has relatively few options. The current model is unsustainable.”

He said there was a need for long term planning for training, based on accurate labour market intelligence and he urged policymakers not to forget the employees already in the workforce when it came to work-based learning, as they provided the foundation economy.

Peter Rees, NTfW’s chairman, said: “I have mixed feelings on the apprenticeship levy. Based on the evidence that companies are investing less in training, the gap has got to be filled somehow. If there is to be levy, we need to work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that it’s used to the best benefit of the Welsh economy.”

Another of the speakers, Toni Pearce, head of employment and skills at NIACE, urged training providers to get into schools to provide information about apprenticeship opportunities and called for training budgets to be protected when the new levy is introduced. “It’s an exciting time for apprenticeship policy but we need to get it right,” she added.

The other speaker was Helen Hoffmann, vocational education and training policy officer in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.

Workshop topics include Embedding the ‘Vision for Excellence in work-based learning’, Integrating bilingualism within a world class workforce, Towards a professional workforce – preparations for registration, Making labour market information work and Apprenticeships for all – allowing everyone to fulfil their true potential.

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