Time to stop the constant skills changes and address the real business issues

Commenting on the publication of the ’10-point plan’, issued to government by the British Chambers of Commerce and The Chartered Management Institute, calling for urgent reforms to the skills system, Joy Sewart, Director of Skills and Social Enterprise at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce , said:

“It is clear from talking with many businesses and providers that there are serious issues, some may say fatal flaws, on how the skills system is currently set up and delivered.

"The latest apprenticeship start figures, published in May 2018 by the Department for Education, show a dramatic decrease in apprenticeship starts from 309,000 between August 2016 and February 2017 to 232,700 between August 2017 and February 2018. The trajectory shows the decline is highly likely to continue for the remainder of the parliamentary term if nothing is done to immediately address this. In real terms, the chronic reduction in apprenticeship starts is stifling business growth and providing less opportunity of our young people.

“With a doubling of the number of apprenticeship price bands, the uncertainty over how the government’s latest qualification - the T standard - will be implemented and a backdrop of further reforms and tinkering – with 29 major skills reforms in the last 30 years, six Skills Ministers in the last decade alone and countless government departments with responsibility for the administration and implementation of these reforms, it is not surprising that many businesses describe the system as incoherent and ineffective.

"As a result of this, The Chartered Management Institute and the British Chambers of Commerce have issued a ’10-point plan’ to government, calling for urgent reforms to reverse the drop in the number of new apprentices since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017. The plan asks the government for the immediate transformation of the skills landscape so everyone benefits from apprenticeship reforms. For the government to listen to business and relax the complex and restrictive apprenticeship levy rules, calling for a single government agency, who is accountable for skills delivery in a simple and transparent manner. To measure the impact, not the target, with access to quality training, at the right time and in the right location and lastly for stability in the skills system as constant tinkering and changes in policy and funding is bad for businesses and learners.

"For employers, the plan calls for business to embrace apprenticeships, which are designed by business for business, to find flexible ways to help manage training, commit to long term investment of their workforces, embrace wider workforce planning and finally measure the benefits through a cost vs benefit approach.

"However, all of this amounts to nothing, if the voice of our Greater Manchester business community cannot be heard. In May 2018, our President, Jane Boardman (Partner at Deloitte), launched the Chamber’s ‘Future of Skills 2028’ campaign. Over 250 businesses have submitted their views to us on the challenges and opportunities they face in the next decade in recruiting and growing a skilled workforce, resulting in the largest business-led desk based skills research piece to be produced in Greater Manchester in the last five years.

"We have a real opportunity here to work with our businesses, our Mayor Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and our local education providers to lobby government for a skills system which is easy to understand and remains unchanged. By working collaboratively, we can create a system in Greater Manchester that helps businesses to define and access the skills they require in a simple and transparent manner. Attracting young people to good careers, with pay progression and top class training is absolutely where the future of skills must sit."

About Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is the largest Chamber of Commerce in the UK, providing business support to approximately 4,500 members who collectively employ 446,000 people, around one-third of Greater Manchester’s workforce. Recognised as a leader in its field, Greater Manchester Chamber’s reputation in government circles has grown locally and nationally. At the heart of the area of greatest economic intensity outside London and the South East, the Chamber is the primary body for business support, policy, representation and networking. The Chamber is an independent, not-for-profit private company and its aim is to support businesses and help create the best climate for the region to prosper. This is achieved by ensuring that those taking decisions on key issues such as transport, taxation and business regulation hear the voice of our members. The representation of our members’ views is central to the work of the policy team at the Chamber; these views are gathered in a range of ways including our local councils, policy committees, sector councils, the main Chamber council, focus groups, meetings with politicians and consultations. The Chamber also offers a range of networking forums across Greater Manchester, free as part of membership, plus a variety of other events and services designed to benefit specific sectors or individuals and help businesses to grow.