Addressing skills gaps with NCFE

Stewart Foster Managing Director, NCFE Awarding

It’s no secret that we live in politically uncertain times but there is one constant in education, and that is change. A number of skills gaps have been identified in response to various reports and analysis into how our economy is coping with rapid change and advancement in technology and business and we believe that education, especially technical education, is the answer to solving these issues.

At NCFE, we understand that every learner is different and that it’s important to develop a diverse and engaging offer that helps every learner achieve their full potential. We’ve always championed the importance of technical education and believe that everyone learns differently, which is why it’s so important to us that technical education has just as much respect and recognition as traditional academic routes. There are so many advantages to technical learning, from gaining real, transferrable and practical skills for everyday life, to learning as you work in an apprenticeship or continuing professional development.

A spotlight on digital skills

As a result of a skills gap analysis in Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), digital skills has been highlighted as a focus area for all regions. The government launched the Digital Strategy in 2017 and a large focus of that was around the prevention of digital exclusion by ensuring that people have the digital skills they need.

Digital skills have also been reviewed due to a change in funding through the Adult Education Budget (AEB): “Adults will have the opportunity to undertake improved digital courses based on new national standards setting out the digital skills people need to get on in life and work. The new entitlement will be funded through the national Adult Education Budget (AEB).”

We understand that whilst ‘digital’ is a growing industry in its own right, it also underpins all other sector areas with basic digital skills a requirement in most modern job roles. It is expected that within twenty years, 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills and it’s with this in mind that we are doing all we can in addressing these skills gaps through a package of digital qualifications, throughout the learning journey from school age to adulthood.

We believe in the importance of lifelong learning and embracing new skills both in and out of the workplace. By undertaking qualifications in digital skills, learners are able to gain confidence, upskill and progress in employment, and solve the problem of digital exclusion which many people are facing in such a rapidly changing world.

Skills and social mobility

The Social Mobility Commission was set up to monitor progress towards improving social mobility in the UK and they recently released a report looking at the role adult skills can play in achieving this goal.

They found that ‘Low pay is mainly a low skill problem but the UK currently lags behind other countries in giving adults a second chance to get on’ and that this was due to the UK spending relatively little on adult skills.

They also found some interesting insights into the culture of adult reskilling in the UK, with graduates being over 3 times more likely to participate in training than those with no qualifications. Previous research also showed half of adults from the lowest socio-economic groups having received no training since leaving school.

Low levels of investment aren’t just restricted to prior attainment; almost twice as many people in managerial, professional and associate professional occupations access training (30%) compared to those in intermediate (16%) or routine and manual occupations (18%). This is sustained across generations, with adults whose parents worked in professional or managerial occupations more likely to participate in training, no matter what their own occupation is, than those whose parents worked in lower-skilled occupations.

This disparity is also reflected in ethnic and gender backgrounds, with more women than men undertaking  training (26% versus 21%), more people from Black and Black British ethnic backgrounds than from white backgrounds (32% to 23%), and more younger than older people (25% of 25-29 year olds compared to 17% of 60-64 year olds).

The Commission has set out a suggested action plan, asking employers to address disparities in their training investment, asking government to increase the availability, accessibility and quality of training for adults who need it most and improve the quality of information available on adult skills, training and careers. These are welcome suggestions, but what is clear is that to truly address social mobility and the future productivity challenges of our economy, all of us in the sector are going to have to play our part.

We are passionate about people being able to access education no matter what their background, age or ethnicity and strive to reach as many people as we can. By engaging with learners right from school to later life, we are trying to change the historical attitudes towards vocational and technical education by offering people alternative ways of learning and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

The quality of technical education has never been higher with the introduction of the upcoming T Levels, the government’s commitment to apprenticeships, and the Functional Skills Reform. There has never been a better time to engage with technical learning and we believe that NCFE is fantastically placed to help learners get the most from technical education.