Helping Employers (and Ministers) make sense of the many UK Skills initiatives.

Last month it was announced that the 1922 Committee (of Conservative back-bench MPs) would have policy groups working with the Conservative Policy Forum. On 20th January I chaired the first review meeting for the Conservative Policy Forum National Discussion Group on Skills and Employment . This agreed to focus on non-partisan action plans to produce results by March 31st – pending the launch of longer-term policy studies in Mid-May under my successor.  Summary reports will be placed on the CPF NDG website and there will be at least one formal CPF event before I hand-over, but the partnerships organising the non-partisan action plans are otherwise free to organise their own activities to recruit participants and achieve results.

The first non-partisan action plan, led by Michaela Eshbach of Founders4Schools (probably the largest industry funded careers organisation) is to help employers make sense of what is already happening to them to decide which initiatives to support and to inform ministers accordingly.

We have a morass of vocational education, careers and skills initiatives competing for funds and attention. Most are organised by those (including Departments and Agencies) unaware of what others are doing. Some have decided it is too difficult to find out who else is doing what, with what success, so they plan to start from scratch anyway.  Too few of those looking at diversity and inclusion are aware of the processes, including social values legislation, that can used to link welfare to work and economic regeneration programmes to technical and professional career pathways.

The  Positive Transformation Group will helping this part of the exercise with pilots in specific sectors and locations, including construction, cyber, digital, finance, rural and coastal. The selection will depend on employers’ recruitment targets.

The initial idea was to map what is already available but early discussion indicated there are already a number of comprehensive databases, including those used locally and nationally by the Careers & Enterprise Company, with which F4S works closely. There is also at least one AI driven exercise to help employers interpret the different taxonomies used to define, for example, digital skills. What is missing is guidance for employers (and others) on how to access and use the information already available.

The review meeting on 20th January also heard from the Careers Collective that the stresses of Covid have led to burn out among schools careers advisors. They need support and encouragement from employers to make their jobs easier and less stressful.

Following input from meetings and emails before and since that review, F4S propose a series of short, medium and long term objectives for this group as below.  See Appendix 1 for the summary based on discussions in December and January. This shaped the focus of later follow up meetings and this proposal.  Appendix 2 is provided by Positive Transformation Group following an initial meeting, on proposed key areas where PTG could also support the wider objectives.

The non-partisan participants in this group will be inviting their own contacts. Alternatively you can sign up via the Conservative Policy Forum, contact me on Linked In or send me an e-mail.  

Short term Objective – to 31st March 2022

  • To better understand the barriers of employers. This understanding could be gained through the research of existing publications, and also by engaging with employers from a range of business and industry, for example SMEs through to multi-national companies.
  • To have an overview of the current existing types of provision of career engagement. Work of this nature has already been undertaken by the Gatsby Foundation and should be a good place from which to start and identify any gaps / recent changes.
  • To identify participants to work on aligning the Social Values Act and Apprenticeship Levy and widening application of the levy including to cover pre employment skills development and careers education from primary schools upwards.

Short to medium term

  •  To map types of career engagement: identify common features of engagement interventions / programmes and use these features to group the types.
  • To identify what ‘good’ career engagement looks like.
  • To take forward the established working group and identify methods and channels for informing and building on current policy and/or bringing about necessary change to meet future needs.

Medium term

  • To align types of engagement with the barriers faced by employers, to create a roadmap which helps employers identify the types of engagement with which they can become involved with. This would benefit from participation by careers and education providers to help with signposting.
  • To explore the implementation of social purpose and value, for example through a social value calculator.
  • Draft policy recommendations to revisit the application of the Apprenticeship Levy to stimulate further employer engagement with early skill and careers education on all levels, corporate and SMEs. For example through gifting of unused Levy.

Long term

To align policy, education and employers to ensure that the lack of three-way communications is no longer a barrier to meaningful, embedded and long term career education taking place. From EYFS in schools, to return to work pathways.

APPENDIX 1. Summary of pre-review discussion on how to understand what is happening

There is currently a vast array of careers provision from a wide range of providers, Including interactions with young people, upskilling of teachers, printed resources, industry-led curriculums, one-off interactions, competitions, sustained project-based learning, some targeting very localized needs, others taking from international best practice.

Many featured on existing platforms and directories. Some are endorsed and meet quality standards.  Rather than a list of individual provision, which would be vast and likely incomplete, we propose to explore the development of a list of the types of provision.

How do we bring about change? We need to engage a range of employers to inform the group where their gaps in understanding and ability are in engaging with young people.  This needs analysis could form a framework which is addressed in the document.

Together with ways to persuade and support, even compel, employers to engage with careers education, this could be a powerful tool to remove barriers to employer engagement.

The involvement of larger employers will be crucial to explore the interest and practicality of these.

We therefore suggest addressing the following distinct areas:

  1. How can employers access the existing maps of provision related to career and skill education?

This could include:

  • Focus on provision for maths, green careers and digital skills related initiatives.
  • Lists of pilots, their status and potential for expansion/replication.
  • Guidance to help employers better understand how to engage with educators, young people and providers of careers education.
  1. How do we make it easier for employers commit further to careers education for young people?

This could include:

  • Recommendation on how to better leverage the Social Values Act- e.g. extending requests for suppliers working with government to engage in career education with young people at school age and provide work experience etc . This is already the case for some large construction and infrastructure contracts but could be explored to be applicable to all.
  • Explore how the current levy contribution could be used to fund career education activities delivered by employers directly or supported by third sector organisations – facilitating easy access to students for employers.

APPENDIX 2. Contribution from the Positive Transformation Group

  • Supporting employers to access the full array of funding available for skills, training, early careers, employability, returning to work and recruitment – matching talent recruitment, retention & development requirements with available funding to minimise the friction in creating equity of access to opportunity and representation for all society. PTG can help create prototypes with sustained impact for employers addressing skills constraints and other talent challenges, including pathways to sustainable employment & careers for the nation’s youth, those seeking to re-train and others returning to work
  • Enabling larger employers to endow their charity / not-for-profit partners and strengthen their pandemic-affected SME supply chains through managed gifting of unused Apprenticeship Levy. Working with a range of community-based & focused organisations (including local authorities & housing associations) to offer access to structured learner journeys that incorporate sector-related & employer-specific masterclasses, mentoring from employer staff & subject matter experts and clinically-backed self-service wellbeing
  • PTG can design and govern delivery of sector-specific programmes working with a range of independent training providers, further education colleges or higher education institutions to ensure the training is current and relevant to existing and emerging skills needs, and, even more importantly, engaging and inspiring to maximise learner completions, readiness for the world of work and a strong sense of belonging at the employer from the outset. PTG facilitates industry-wide collaboration on skills, training & recruitment, with full-length learner pathways from level 2 through to level 7 (equivalent to a degree)
  • Through partnerships such as with the Housing Association’s Charitable Trust (HACT), PTG’s enables employers to adopt social value calculation to measure the benefits and impact that their early careers programmes and charitable support bring to people and communities – and embed having a social purpose into their corporate mission. For example, through a social value calculator, we can encourage employers to report on their achievements and progress such as outcomes for young people
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