The National Retraining Scheme: Britain’s Answer to the Skills Gap
The UK’s Skills Crisis
The Adult Skills Gap report, published in January 2019, brings the UK’s skills shortage into sharp focus, implicating the scarcity of adult training and post-16 learning options in the current skills crisis. Examining the UK’s adult skills landscape, the document also highlights trends and often-ignored consequences of neglecting to invest in upskilling programmes for those who stand to lose the most as a result of the snowballing effects of automation and AI.
The report opens with findings gathered by the Social Mobility Commission, which reveal the UK’s ‘endemic low pay problem’, with only 1 in 6 low-paid workers ever managing to climb out of low-wage work and move into better-paying jobs. At the heart of this issue lies the skills shortage that plagues the UK as it ‘lags behind other countries in giving adults a second chance’ in the form of state-funded adult learning and upskilling programmes.
Prior to the government’s recent decision to replenish the adult learning sector via the National Retraining Scheme, its contribution only accounted for 7% of all vocational training spend (compared to employers’ 82%), putting the country’s average spend per employee at half of the EU average.
Addressing similar concerns to those raised in the Adult Skills Gap report, the Labour Party published its Lifelong Learning Commission interim report two weeks ago (1 August), calling for the relaunching of ‘accessible, “cradle-to-grave” learning’.
Labour’s interim report starts out by emphasising the importance of education at a time when the world, along with the workplace, is going through tumultuous, unprecedented change. The rapid rate at which technological developments occur is predicted to start displacing swathes of workers as early as the next decade.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysed the jobs of 20 million people in England and has concluded that 7.4% (1,480,000 jobs) face high risk of being performed by a machine or an algorithm in the coming future.
The National Retraining Scheme
The National Retraining Scheme is a new government scheme, aiming to revive the concept of lifelong learning and equipping adults with the skills and tools they need to effectively overcome the challenges automation is predicted to pose.
The scheme’s key aim is to re-introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges, giving everyone the opportunity to upskill and retrain whenever their circumstances require it. This represents a welcome change from the last decade, which saw those above the age of 18 left to their own devices, amid little opportunity or funding to enrol in training and adult courses.
The National Retraining Scheme is developed through a special partnership between the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the government, all the while adopting a ‘user-centred, test and learn approach’, thoroughly testing every feature of the new service before deploying for public use. To this end, the scheme has begun its initial launch in the Liverpool City Region; though only rolling out the very first phase of the scheme, namely the digital service, Get Help to Retrain.
Get Help to Retrain
The Get Help to Retrain service marks the first of a series of products that will make up the National Retraining Scheme. According to the government’s Digital Marketplace website, the product aims to address the difficulty many people have in navigating complex careers and training advice, as well as accessing useful resources designed to help them.
What Get Help to Retrain intends to do is offer its users a simple and practical tool, allowing them to understand their skills, view relevant job profiles and information on the current labour market; in addition to accessing training and support that may benefit their career development.
The product is aimed at those aged 24 and over, without degrees and employed in jobs that stand to see considerable collateral damage as a result of automation. Individuals employed in low-skilled occupations such as waitressing, shelf filling and retail will initially be given priority over those in more automation-proof jobs, due to the urgency of their situations.
The Impact on the Private Education Sector
However, while the National Retraining Scheme has, so far, garnered very positive responses from all sides of the political spectrum as well as the business and education sectors, questions remain with regards to its impact and the logistical aspects of its launch.
Questions have also been raised by private education providers eager to find out how the initiative will affect them and whether the government has plans to collaborate with both private and state-led providers in making the scheme a success we all hope it can be.
Unfortunately, when pushed to reveal more information about the new programme recently, now-former skills minister, Anna Milton responded with: “We don’t know yet”. What she did disclose, however, was that the government is taking its time in order to get this right and to help ‘people who are furthest from the job market […] and whose jobs are at risk of automation’.
While, due to the government’s reluctance, it’s hard to conjecture about the potential of the scheme on the private education sector, one of the pilots being run in preparation for the scheme’s official roll-out is led by a range of organisations including further education colleges. Perhaps it’s fair to assume that owing to the scheme’s size and the billions it’s predicted to cost, the government will seek to make it a collaborative effort between itself and further education providers, in order to maximise the scheme’s success.
At Candlefox, we’ve always understood the crucial role lifelong learning plays in our rapidly changing world, and the work we do has reflected this since our company’s inception.
For this reason, we welcome the British government’s commitment to adopting a more proactive approach to the lifelong education of its citizens and look forward to the closing of the skills gap.