Experts Call for Reform of UK’s Skills System to Boost Economy

Experts this week warned that the UK’s economy – currently the sixth largest in the world – is set to slide down the international rankings unless its skills and employment systems are fundamentally reformed and improved.

The report, Ambition 2020, published this week by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, says that an extra 20 million people need to improve their skills if the UK is to achieve its ambition of being in the top eight countries in the world for skills, jobs and productivity by 2020.

It also calls for an increase in the number of apprenticeships available for young people and adults; for prospective students to be given more and better information about the range of courses and qualifications on offer; and for more encouragement for businesses to create highly-skilled jobs.

Chris Humphries CBE, Chief Executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said:

“At the moment, our economy is still world-class – quite an achievement for such a small island. But we’re living on past glories. Economic success rests on three legs – skills, jobs and productivity – and we are well below average on the first of these. Unless swift and decisive action is taken, we can expect the UK’s economy to begin to slide down the international rankings.

“The Commission hopes and believes that the UK can continue to be a world class nation, with some of the best skilled workers and the best businesses. But at the moment, just like the England World Cup team, whilst aspiring to still be in the quarter finals in 2020, our current performance just enables us to scrape in at the bottom of the last 16.”

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Improving information, advice and guidance for learners, in part by making the collection and publication of destination and earnings data mandatory for all colleges and universities in receipt of public funding;
  • Devolving more funding and decision-making to the front line – for example, through the network of Local Employment Partnerships (LEPs);
  • Prioritising public funding towards basic and lower level skills and stimulating greater co-investment with employers and individuals in higher level skills;
  • Taking advantage of the new cap on non-EU migration to ensure that the opportunities created are secured by appropriately-skilled indigenous workers.

Sir Mike Rake, Chairman of BT and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills said:

“In spite of our progress in recent years, other countries are progressing further and faster, as last week’s OECD report on the UK reminded us[1]. There is no extra public money available, so what we need to do is encourage a more streamlined system with a ruthless focus on economically valuable skills and the creation of new jobs which put those skills to good use.”

The report Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK, is published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

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