By Claire West

Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable and Skills Minister John Hayes will today launch the Government’s strategy for skills, Skills for Sustainable Growth, and its parallel publication, Investing in Skills for Sustainable Growth.

The strategy sets out the Government’s vision for reform of the Further Education and skills system in order to improve the skills of the workforce, the performance of the economy and engagement in learning.

Investing in Sustainable Growth sets out how Government seeks to achieve its objectives through investing strategically in FE and skills over this Spending Review period. Savings will have to be made, but the Government understands the importance of continuing high levels of participation and performance.

Dr Cable said:

“If we are to achieve sustainable growth, nothing is more important than addressing current failings in skills training, and this strategy reflects this Government’s determination to do both.

“We are not in a position to throw money at the problem, but even against the backdrop of reductions, resource will be found to expand the apprenticeship programme for adults and support more people undertaking an increasingly respected form of vocational training.”

The strategies were launched by Dr Cable during his first FE and skills keynote speech at the annual Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham.

The reform of the skills systems includes:

Expanding the numbers of adult apprenticeships available, so by 2014-15 there will be 75,000 more adults starting than under the previous Government’s plans; 200,000 adults will be able to start an apprenticeship. We will invest £605 million in adult apprenticeships in the 2011-12 financial year;
Improving the apprenticeships package, so that level 3 (A Level equivalent) becomes the level to achieve, and there are clear progression pathways;
Fully funding training for young adults aged from 19 up to 24 undertaking their first full level 2 (GCSE equivalent) or first level 3 qualification when they do not already have one;
Fully funding basic skills courses for individuals who left school without basic reading, writing and mathematics;
Protecting investment of £210 million in adult and community learning, to support personal development, inclusive communities and a route into formal learning for the disengaged;
Introducing Government-backed loans from 2013-14 for learners aged 24 and over undertaking level 3 or higher qualifications. This will give people access to finance. They will not have to make their contribution to costs of the course until they are reaping the benefits of it and earning a decent wage;
Initiating a demand-led growth and innovation fund of up to £50 million of government investment a year, to support employer-led initiatives within sectors, such as new professional standards, and to promote leadership and management in small and medium enterprises;
Replacing Train to Gain with an SME focused programme to help small employers train low-skilled staff;
Helping people who are on active job-seeking benefits to secure work through labour-market relevant training; and
Reducing bureaucracy in the sector. We will continue to free colleges and training providers from red tape so they can respond to the needs of employers and learners. We will simplify the complex funding system and from the 2011-12 academic year there will be a single adult skills budget.
Last month the Spending Review set out that by 2014-15 the further education resource budget will be reduced by 25 per cent. In the 2011-12 financial year, we plan to invest £3.7 billion in further education and skills for post-19 learners supporting capacity for over 3 million training places in the 2011/12 academic year funded through the Skills Funding Agency.

Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister John Hayes, said:

“The Government’s skills strategy is one of the most important documents yet published by the coalition Government. Helping business and individuals gain the skills they need is vital to helping the country gain economic strength and build sustainable growth in the long term.

“Despite a reduction in the FE and Skills budget, we are continuing to protect and invest in programmes that provide the highest quality and greatest benefit to the maximum number of people. Replacing Train to Gain with funding for work place training prioritised on SMEs will to help employers with a small workforce train low-skilled staff. And as we continue to expand apprenticeships and reinvigorate community learning more people will be able to build their skills and fulfil their potential.

“The acquisition of skills enables people to progress in learning and work and delivers social benefits too. I want to see the development of a culture of learning with individuals and employers driving forward the skills system and contributing to the learning they receive.”

In his speech today, Dr Cable also announced that approval has been given to funding for a National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering. It will receive £2.7 million of funding from Government, which will be matched by £2.2 million from employers, to deliver a highly skilled and qualified workforce to support the rail industry and newly announced projects such as Crossrail and HighSpeed 2.