The British Government this week has expanded on its skills plan for the country, where it has laid out its programme and investment priorities that have a strong focus on digital and green tech.
The funding and ‘skills boost' blueprint formed part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ‘levelling up' speech this week, where he said that post-16 education is where there are the starkest differences across British society.
Johnson's ‘levelling up' sound bite has been central to his agenda since winning the 2019 election, where he has committed to try and distribute wealth more evenly across the country. Since that election, the UK has exited from the EU and suffered economic damage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped that a focus on skills and attempting to make the UK a ‘scientific powerhouse' will pave the way for a prosperous future.
But given the Conservative party have been in power for over a decade and the harsh inequality in the UK has broadly remained unchanged, serious questions remain over the government's commitment to the cause.
During his speech this week, Johnson said:
It cannot be right that Bath has 78 per cent with a level three or a level equivalent qualification and Bradford has only 42 per cent, and that is why this government is obsessed with skilling up our population.
We love our universities and we believe they are one of the glories of this country but we need to escalate the value of practical and vocational education that can transform people's lives. And that is why we are rolling out T-levels and apprenticeships because we know that higher level apprentices earn more than the average graduate five years after graduation.
That's why we're creating the lifetime skills guarantee and so as we improve skills and cut crime and upgrade transport and ensure that gigabit broadband is probing its invisible electronic tendrils into every home in the land and opening limitless vistas of information and opportunity.
The government's skills plan includes the following:
The government's Skills Bootcamp training programmes will be expanded across the country, offering an extra 16,000 fully funded places for adults to upskill or retrain. The Bootcamps are developed in partnership with employers, colleges, training providers and local authorities, to help people develop skills that are in demand in their local area.
The expansion to the Skills Bootcamp programme will cover a range of digital and technical training, including green skills, such as solar energy installation, sustainable agriculture, nuclear energy, and green transport. In addition, there will be a focus on coding and software development.
A consultation has been launched on the future of the National Skills Fund, which the government says has already supported thousands of adults to upskill and retrain, which has been aided by access to almost 400 free courses.
Eighteen areas across the country have been chosen to lead work to build stronger partnerships between local employer groups, colleagues and other providers through the Skills Accelerator programme, so that the training on offer aims to meet the needs of local communities.
New careers guidance has been published for all schools and colleges, to help ensure that young people are aware of all the options available to them, including apprenticeships and technical education.
A further consultation has been launched on plans to simplify funding for adult skills training.
Tech giants are also weighing in and calling on the government to persist with this action as a priority. For instance, Gavin Patterson, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Salesforce, said:
In a world where 65% of global GDP will be driven by digitised products and services the skills gap must be addressed.
Nine out of ten British workers will need to learn new digital skills by 2030 if the British economy wants to remain competitive long-term.
We're calling on the UK government to prioritise re-skilling workers to support its economic recovery plan. Unless there's collective action from the government, with support from companies like Salesforce, the opportunity to equip the UK's workforce with digital capabilities and knowhow will be missed, as will the vital opportunity to drive economic recovery, growth, and future resilience.
Johnson added during his speech this week that all of this forms part of his ‘master plan' to make the UK more attractive for investment, by turning the country into a "science superpower". The government has committed to doubling public investment in R&D as part of this (£22 billion) and the Prime Minister hopes that this will "trigger more private sector investment".
Johnson also highlighted the government's ambitions to make the UK a top research destination for battery technology, which is expected to be a focus during the ‘green revolution' over the coming years and the UK's commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Johnson said:
We need 70,000 skilled individuals to be making the batteries alone. This battery development will drive investment from Cornwall to Thurso, so that without in any way detracting from the golden triangle of Oxford, London. Cambridge - the greatest scientific constellation anywhere in this hemisphere - we drive high tech high wage jobs across the UK and we will use new post Brexit freedoms - such as freeports - to drive those investments across the UK, especially in green technology.
As has been pointed out by many people, I believe that the ‘levelling up' sound bite is a bit of a red herring in this discussion - where much of it has focused on the North-South ‘divide'. What I mean by that is that there is still extreme inequality in places like London, which is seen as the center of economic wealth in the UK. This is ultimately less about geography and more about the poor-rich divide, where the income gap between those earning the most and those earning the least needs to be narrowed. Skills are clearly an important element of that and it's too soon to tell how material and impact the government's plans will have, as it grapples with challenges like Brexit and COVID-19. The focus on green tech and digital training is welcome, but execution on delivering this will be key.