How Britain is Training for its Post-COVID-19 Future
As COVID-19 leaves countless industries compromised, bringing the UK’s skills gap into sharp focus, the British government makes official plans to address the country’s need for training and upskilling initiatives.
With the COVID-19 outbreak permanently altering the shape of our economy, leaving millions unemployed and whole sectors mothballed, the UK’s long-lasting skills shortages can no longer be ignored.
In its latest report, ‘Back from the brink: avoiding a lost generation,’ the Centre for Progressive Policy stresses the above, warning that failure to commit to upskilling the nation could result in consequences such as:
Luckily, as we’ve found out in recent months, Boris Johnson’s government has accounted for the need to offer training in its Budget, and Britain is now set to benefit from the launch of the National Skills Fund in tandem with its predecessor, the National Retraining Scheme.
Keep reading to find out how the initiatives will work, who will be involved in their roll-out, and how those acutely in need of training and retraining will benefit.
History of Training and Upskilling in the UK
COVID-19 has affected individual countries differently, with some experiencing the economic fallout more acutely than others. And while many factors will determine how quickly nations will recover and return a sense of (relative) equilibrium to their economies, we know that possessing the right skills will take centre stage. As stated in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s report, there is a proven link between learned skills and income earned in the labour market, in addition to increased productivity and benefits to the private sector.
This link is what has made Britain particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic. As we’ve been told for the past few years, not least in the Government’s own 2019 report, large swathes of the UK population don’t possess the skills needed to alleviate the inevitable effects of the fast-approaching automation of British workplaces – a situation amplified by COVID-19.
However, starting with last year’s launch of the National Retraining Scheme, followed by the National Skills Fund announced last month, and finally, last week’s decision to merge the two, we have now laid some firm foundations for revolutionising Britain’s skills landscape.
Below, we’ll go into more depth regarding the schemes the government has put together to prepare the country for its post-COVID-19 future.
National Retraining Scheme
The National Retraining Scheme was created in 2019 as a response to Britain’s skills crisis and its scarcity of adult learning and post-16 training options. Shortly prior to its launch, an ONS report had found that while Britain was lagging behind other nations in addressing its skills gap, the technologies that are predicted to displace 1,480,000 jobs have been relentlessly proliferating workplaces around the country.
To allow Britain to deal with the challenges posed by these technological advancements, the government launched the National Retraining Scheme. Developed in partnership with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Department for Education (DfE), the scheme’s stated aim is to revive the concept of lifelong learning and support people in obtaining the qualifications they require to be able to get and keep their jobs. This will undoubtedly be a welcome change, particularly for those who have chosen not to go to university and may require additional support in upskilling themselves.
The first component of the National Retraining Scheme was Get Help to Retrain, an easy-to-use, practical tool designed to help participants with things such as:
Get Help to Retrain launched in July 2019 in the Liverpool City Region and has since been optimised and rolled out in five other areas:
Since its inception, 2,700 have benefited from the service while the government has been able to utilise the data obtained from the participants to inform their following scheme: The National Skills Fund.
The National Skills Fund
The creation of the National Skills Fund was announced in September as part of Boris Johnson’s first government Budget. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that £2.5 billion would be devoted to transforming the UK training and skills system and ensuring that it is fit for the 21st-century economy.
While not much is known about how the funding will be distributed or what stakeholders the government will choose to bring in on the project, it was announced on October 13th that the National Retraining Scheme will be integrated into the National Skills Fund. As explained by Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, this will ‘reduce complexity’ in the adult education landscape and open up opportunities for more stakeholders to be involved in the roll-out of the combined service.
What’s more, the insights and learnings obtained through research and user engagement while developing the National Retraining Scheme have laid firm foundations for the National Skills Fund and the government’s other adult education reforms.
Similarly, the engagement with employers and further education institutions resulting from the former has informed the government’s approach, namely ensuring that the scheme’s provision is flexible and responsive to the needs of today’s workforce and prospective students.
Part of the National Skills Fund are ‘digital skills bootcamps’, comprising short courses in IT followed by job interviews; aimed at helping those aged 19 and over obtain employment in the digital sector. Eventually, the bootcamps are expected to encompass other subjects such as construction and engineering. Gillian Keegan stated:
It’s 12 to 16 weeks, so it’s quite intensive training, and is really trying to get people to get some quite valuable skills, which will lead them to employment in the digital sector and digital-based roles in particular.
The aim of the training, therefore, is to quickly equip learners with the skills needed to gain entry-level employment in the digital sector. This is a smart move considering the predicted impact of automation and AI and one which will also enable the participants to thrive in a COVID-19 economy, highly centred around technology.
The National Skills Fund will also entitle every adult to a first, full level 3 qualifications in addition to access to the National Retraining Scheme. Similarly, those aged 19 to 24, without an A-level or equivalent qualification, will also have the opportunity to benefit from traineeships, which the government aims to triple, starting in 2021.
How Does the National Skills Fund Affect Private Education Providers?
While information regarding the logistical aspects of the government’s adult education scheme is still scarce, the government expressed its openness to working with as many stakeholders as needed to prepare Britain for its post-COVID-19 future. As such, a tender went out from the Department for Education in the week commencing 5th October, inviting bids from providers to deliver education and training services.
According to the government website, any organisation may apply while the criteria for qualifying include:
Once the above criteria have been met, your organisation will be listed on the register of training providers, and you will then be invited to tender.
At this stage, information is limited with regards to what comes next. However, upon successful completion of the application, more will be communicated via the e-tendering portal.
While COVID-19 may have done significant damage to the UK economy and placed the future of its once-profitable industries under a question mark, our awareness of the power of education and training fills us with optimism for Britain’s future.
It is through this kind of commitment to its people and its adult education sector that the country will be well-equipped to recover from the fallout of the pandemic and stand itself in good stead to take on future challenges.