Published yesterday, the Leitch Review of Skills is a UK government-commissioned examination of the skills Britain needs long term for economic success. In it, Sandy Leitch, former Chief Executive of Zurich Financial Services, addressed the likely skills needs of the UK for 2020, including the likely skills mix to meet social as well as economic objectives, and the implications for policy.
One of a number of reports that the Treasury will be considering in the run-up to the 2007 spending review, the report outlines the familiar sad tail of the UK’s long tail of low skills. Using qualifications as a proxy for skill, it points out that 35% of UK adults are low-skilled, against 13% in the US, 17% in Germany. Skills for All in 2004 pointed out the effects on people and on the economy of a legacy of low-skilled youth.
This is one key area of likely policy adjustment – expect training or schooling for everyone under 18. So, with employers’ organisation the CBI the report and demanding the educational system take more notice of the needs of business, will this mean an overhaul of the educational system? Not immediately, is my guess. It’s more likely that we will see the following recommendations of the report taken seriously:
- Compulsory education or training for all under 18
- More spending on skills to level 3 (18 year old high school leaver), of about GBP 1.5 – 2 bn annually (a shift from previous focus on level 2)
- Channelling of funding through Train to Gain and Learning Accounts
- More power for the UK’s 25 Sector Skills Councils (who lead on vocational training)
- A variety of mechanisms to increase employer engagement in work-based learning, some voluntary, some compulsory, and some compulsory if the voluntary route doesn’t work
- Creation of an adult careers service
- Creation of a single Commission for Employment and Skills
Nobody doubts that the British ability to run a modern economy relies at least in part on having a generally high level of skills (rather than our past practice of a graduate elite). The report estimates a potential net benefit to the UK of least £80 billion over 30 years, equivalent to £2.5 billion annually.
A general concern that I share with all government reports, though, is that they result in more quangos. I’m not sure how an adult careers service will do anything that Learn Direct, the Job Centres and the SSCs are not doing between them, and in particular the Commission for Employment and Skills must be what it sets out to be – a rationalizing, co-ordinating body, not another with too much oversight and too little power.
Since 1997, this government has created a good number of bodies focused on skills, and to its credit has cut back those where success has been difficult to prove. However, there is still work that needs to be done with the successes – in particular I would argue that the SSCs need more money, rather than the nothing they get after 3 years. The alternative is overlap, and business’s reaction to the report will almost certainly highlight the bewildering state of the current skills infrastructure, a point echoed recently by Simon Derry who points out the absurdity of government advisors being paid to offer businesses advice on negotiating the funding/skills maze.