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Easily accessible digital skills training among government’s updated education plan

The government has released a whitepaper detailing plans for skills reforms to encourage lifelong learning, including making digital skills more easily accessible for adults

The government aims to make gaining essential digital skills in adulthood easier, according to its latest whitepaper.

The Skills for jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunity and growth report outlines some of the ways the government hopes to reform post-16 education, including a focus on ensuring adults have easy access to education of essential skills such as digital, maths and English.

As well as ensuring people have the essential skills they need for a career, the government also hopes the reforms will help post-pandemic recovery and fill “significant skills gaps at higher technical levels”.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our reforms to post-16 education will focus on the skills people and business need for our economy to grow. As we recover from the pandemic, our Lifetime Skills Guarantee will ensure everyone has the confidence and opportunity to gain the skills they need to progress at any stage of their lives.

“These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, while providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job, no matter where they live, and in the sectors that are critical to our future economic success.”

The whitepaper admits England’s current skills system, while “very efficient at producing graduates”, does not always ensure people have the technical skills needed by employers, and the government is therefore encouraging employers and education providers work together to ensure the workforce better matches the skills employers need.  

Research has shown that less than half of adults have the skills to complete basic digital tasks, such as downloading apps or using online maps, and 40% of people in the UK do not have the digital skills required for most jobs.

The government whitepaper highlights the need for these skills, along with other essential skills for life such as maths and literacy, and will be making it easier to gain these basic skills in adulthood.

The government previously launched a “digital entitlement for adults” in 2020 to give adults access to digital skills training, and will now ensure only new digital skills qualifications in line with “employer-led national standards” will be funded so these routes are high quality and fit for purpose.

The Skills Toolkit campaign, a resource providing links to free courses for developing new skills, and other pandemic-related innovations aimed at flexibly delivering skills, will also be developed upon.

The government will be working with employers to deliver short training programmes for workplace skills, and will be developing 12 to 16-week bootcamps based around the IT skills needed by employers. These digital bootcamps will start off in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester/Lancashire, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire, East Midlands, and the South West.

An initial £8m has been invested in developing these employer-led digital bootcamps between September 2020 and March 2021, which will eventually be expanded to include other sectors.

The government’s plan for reform also covers several other areas, including building on its work to overhaul apprenticeships, ensuring education providers can offer training which is likely to lead to better employment opportunities for participants, clarity surrounding funding for education providers, and introducing a Lifelong Loan Entitlement to make it easier to gain new skills later in life.

While the government is already working with employers in sectors where there are skills shortages, such as digital, to help make better use of apprenticeships, it has said that it will be linking traineeships to apprenticeships in “growth sectors” to ensure trainees have the skills they need to make them more appealing to employers, giving them the skills they need before taking on an apprenticeship or other forms of work.

Further work will go into establishing Institutes of Technology, collaborations between further education providers, employers and universities to deliver training programmes focused on tackling local skills gaps – by summer 2021, eight Institutes of Technology will be selected for development alongside the 12 already underway.

One of the government’s aims is ensuring higher technical education pathways are a “true alternative” to a degree-level qualification by aligning the training with the skills employers want, using the National Skills Fund, Institutes of Technology and T-levels to increase provision of high quality technical education and training.

These changes are part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, originally outlined in late 2020, to make education at all stages of life more accessible and to give people the opportunity to gain the skills they need for potential job opportunities.

Tom Lovell, managing director of Tech Partnership Degrees, said: “The Lifetime Skills Guarantee offers great potential to support the ongoing skills development that is a prerequisite in the continuously evolving digital sector. 

“Across all industry sectors, there is an acute need for improved digital skills to enhance productivity. Targeting these reforms where they will have the greatest impact can support the growing importance of the sector and help the UK to compete on the world stage.”

Graduate labour market statistics found that only 66% of graduates who are of working age are employed, and only 4% of young people achieve a higher technical-level qualification by the age of 25. According to research by Tech Partnership Degrees, the average unemployment rate for computer science graduates in the UK is around 8% six months after graduation.

As a technical and more vocational alternative to A-levels, the government developed T-level qualifications, one of the first of which is in digital, launched in September 2020. A further seven will be introduced in 2021, and the goal is to have 24 options available by 2023.

These qualifications will be treated the same as A-Levels by university and college admissions service UCAS.

The government also has plans to continue developing a more blended model for education to make digital and remote learning more viable, building on what has been learnt during the pandemic.

TechUK deputy CEO Antony Walker said: “Reforming our further and technical education system is the first step to toward building a digital economy that works for everybody. We welcome short modular digital skills courses, in particular those accredited by industry and employers, to open up more accessible and affordable pathways for people looking to retrain for digital roles and to ensure value for learners.

“The crucial next step will be implementing such proposals to enable people of all ages to get into the high-skill, high-wage jobs that higher technical education can lead to.”

There is a lack of diversity in the UK’s tech sector, with a recent report from the BCS finding women account for 17% of technology specialists, around 8% of IT specialists are of Indian ethnicity, 2% from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background, and 2% from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds

The government report highlights the importance of ensuring adults are able to gain the skills they need for a career regardless of their background.

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