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The government has published its long-awaited Skills White Paper setting out its plans for reforms to post-16 technical education and training to support people to develop the skills needed to get good jobs and improve national productivity.

Coming at a point that sees education for a whole cohort of youngsters already badly disrupted for nearly a year of the pandemic, this statement of the government’s future intentions could not be more politically, socially, educationally and economically important. Training disrupted, mental health strained to breaking, all previous assumptions dashed and potential employers and training organisations in turmoil, a generation risks a lifetime of disadvantage. It should be seen as a national emergency to give all those affected a real helping hand and a clear way forward.

This white paper outlines how Government proposes to support people to develop the skills they need to get good jobs, including measures to:

  • give employers a greater say in the development of skills;
  • provide higher level technical skills;
  • provide a flexible, lifetime skills guarantee;
  • simplify and reform funding and accountability for providers;
  • support outstanding teaching.

But to deliver what is necessary needs a paradigm shift in public policy to create an environment in which training in practical and technical skills, from plumbing and electronics to social care and business, is seen as at least as important as obtaining university degrees. I never got a degree as a young man, not actually graduating until the age of 56, but I built a career and several businesses, employing over a hundred people, on the back of some solid basic business skills training.

The opportunities for the levelling up agenda as we come out of the pandemic are tremendous, the green revolution will enable our skills and economy to be positioned as world leaders in the sector, and the achievements of our biotechnology and health innovation communities, academic, technical and commercial, open up new horizons the like of which we have not seen for decades. Standing on the shoulders of the giants who have taken such huge steps already should excite and reward millions of our younger citizens if they are able to seize those opportunities for the future.

But this will only happen if we can great societal, political and economic momentum, to identify bold new education and skills objectives and to develop and implement strategies for achieving them. If the legacy of recent events is not to be educational blight then the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, will have to focus, cooperate and drive forward this project with huge enthusiasm and momentum, harnessing the energies and resources of every government department.

All those involved in the provision of education and training, indeed all who care about the impact of public policy on a generation of our youngsters, should actively engage with the fine-tuning, development, enactment and implementation of the policies set out in this document. It is one of the most important we have seen for years.

by Chris Whitehouse, Chair