At the beginning of 2017, the government released its Industrial Strategy for consultation. The responses are currently being considered and incorporated into a White Paper which is due in the autumn.
Additionally, the Industrial Strategy Commission was set up in March 2017 to act as a critical friend as to the content, structure and direction of the strategy. The Commission has now published its interim report called ‘Laying the Foundations’ its final report is due in October.
So what does this interim critique have to say?
The Commission recognises that whatever strategy emerges, it can’t be carried out unless the skills base is cohesive, strong and supported by business, government and individuals alike.
To put a bit of historical context to this; the recent ‘All Change’ report from the Institute of Government described further education and skills reform as "the worst failure of domestic British public policy since the Second World War". In the last 40 years alone, the sector has had 28 major pieces of legislation, 48 Secretaries of State and no one organisation tasked with skills policy has lasted more than 10 years.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEDC); we have low rates of literacy and numeracy in our 16-24 year olds and almost 50% of adults had numeracy levels - less than those of an 11 year old. Our Technical Education system is very weak when compared internationally with only 10% of 20-45 year olds holding technical education as their highest qualification.
Not good reading is it?
So what makes this government believe the latest proposal will be any better?
The Industrial Strategy Commission clearly identifies what needs to happen in a fourfold approach, namely:
- There’s a joining up of policies. The skills policy must be holistic and better integrated into industrial policy. It must also start to focus on the demand side, not the supply side.
- Policy interventions must be flexible and adaptable according to place. Regional and sub regional approaches must be explored and supported as well as further devolution of skills policy.
- Institutional reform must take into account the first 2 points. Employers and supply chains must have a wider, more informed input. The Department for Education and BEIS must talk to and work with each other more closely.
- Vertical and horizontal links between Higher Education and Further Education and research and innovation must also be explored in depth and strengthened. They must work in partnership with each other to ensure a broad and deep base of skills that will underpin future economic growth.
The UK has a recognised and historic deficit in skills. Skills policies must align vertically and horizontally to increase the supply of general technical skills as well as target more specific needs on a regional or sector level. These policies must also flex and adapt as needs and economic conditions dictate.
The Industrial Strategy is a skills policy in all but title. To be successful in the decades to come, education and industry will have to work much closer together to get the best productivity possible. There are turbulent waters ahead and the economic ship of growth must be steered with steady hands and focussed minds to safely clear the ever fragile reefs of ministers past and shoals of failed policy.