Government is seeking to integrate Employment and Skills. The driver is an oft stated one - that individuals will need to be able to adapt to learning new skills and be able to move between firms and sectors. Skills such as IT, that were once treated as higher level skills, are increasingly commonplace requirements for employability. Forecasts indicate that there are likely to be significantly fewer job opportunities for those with low levels of skills and there will be a much greater demand for intermediate and higher level skills and qualifications. Inevitably there is a need to name check the terrifying threats of Eastern competition.
"The global economy is undergoing a profound transformation, fundamental changes in technology, production and trading patterns are having far-reaching effects on our economy and our society. Emerging economies are growing dramatically. By 2015, China is likely to have become the third largest economy in the world after the USA and Japan. At the same time, the UK population is ageing and global migration increasing."
There is a re-statement of the emphasis on those lacking qualifications - currently 4.6 million of working age, and a recognition of the sad statistic that 21% of those on Jobseekers Allowance will move back into unemployment within 3 months of starting work. We are also reminded that in Britain there are 1.7 million children growing up in households where no adults are in work.
"Meeting the challenges of increasing skills across the whole population and making further progress on getting people into sustainable work and helping them to progress demands that Government creates a truly integrated employment and skills system. If such a system is to work, to deliver a truly seamless journey for those moving from benefit to training and on to sustainable employment."
The report starts out by recognizing the positive impacts of the last 10 years.
"Britain's dynamic and flexible labour market means that compared with 1997 we now have historically high levels of employment, 1 million fewer people on out-of-work benefits and 2.8 million more people in work. The lone parent employment rate has increased by over 12 percentage points to 57% and the proportion of people aged 50 and over in employment is at the highest level for 20 years."
Before having a look at the potential weaknesses of the UK labour market.
"There are still too many people in our country who are not able to share in the rising prosperity of the country because they are out of work or they are without the skills that they need to progress in work. The investment needed to become a world leader in skills and to generate world leading employment rates is significant, but the cost of failing would be higher still - the erosion of social cohesion, the burden of unemployment and the economic cost of an unskilled workforce ill-equipped to compete in a globalised world."
At the heart of the reform programme are five core principles:
- A stronger framework of rights and responsibilities
This means benefit claimants having access to the necessary support, but also a clear responsibility to seize the opportunities that exist, to find a job and gain skills.
- A personalised, responsive and more effective approach
Meaning more flexibility to Jobcentre Plus staff and private and third sector providers.
- Not just jobs, but jobs that pay and offer retention and progression
A new emphasis on skills as the key to sustainable employment, so that there is a focus on retention and progression not just job entry.
- Partnership - the private, public and third sectors working together
The future commissioning strategy will maximise innovation in all sectors, driving improvements and leading to better and more sustainable outcomes.
- Targeting areas of high worklessness by devolving and empowering communities
Help areas with the greatest employment and skills needs by funding and supporting communities to find innovative local solutions to local problems and by rewarding success. It would be great here if Government could have another look at the soon to be defunct Community Champions work - something that has had a great deal of major successes for a relatively small financial input directly into impoverished communities.
With regard to the Empowering Community activities we find that Local Area Agreements (LAAs) and Local Strategic Partnerships will become the focus the energies of local communities and key local partners in the voluntary, private and public sector on increasing sustainable employment.
This new integrated system will require:
- a major culture change, boosting individual and employer commitment to, and investment in, learning and higher skills. Not just helping people into jobs, but helping to break the cycle of low skills, short term jobs and low wages;
- services that are modern, responsive and personalised, so that the customer is not just a benefit claimant who needs to be slotted into a job, or someone who can be signed up to a course that happens to have a place. Instead customers get the right advice at the right time and in the right way about skills and jobs, whether in or out of work;
- a system that can identify those for whom a lack of skills or qualifications is a barrier preventing them from moving into sustainable employment and can supply the training needed, with financial support depending on circumstances, through accounts that reinforce commitment to higher skills;
- benefit claimants to get rapid access to help with measures to engage the lowest skilled to improve their skills, including the expectation that people will take up the help on offer where it can overcome barriers to jobs;
- a system where everyone is able to tap in easily to information and advice to help them progress in their careers, and tackle issues - such as caring responsibilities and lack of finance - that can get in the way; and
- a system that is flexible and responsive to a greater variety of demands, driven by the training needs of employers and learners, with a qualifications framework which better reflects that skills gained are relevant to employer needs.
So how are they going to do this I here you ask? Simple - The new adult advancement and careers service (lower case so they haven't settled on name yet) plus, of course, the Train to Gain programme.
As for the new name. how about the Adult Skills Service? Errr no the acronym is a bit dodgy. maybe learndirect. no that seems to easy. it needs a zap of something exciting. I know... learndirect-refresh. sorted - I'm off down the bookies.
Anyway back to the new adult careers and advancement service who's focus is -
"to help every member of society get on in learning, work and careers."
"Every customer on benefits will in future be signposted to the full range of universal services that the new adult advancement and careers service will provide, including advice on their legal right to train. They will receive a systematic "skills screen" to identify any basic literacy, numeracy or language needs."
For those unable to return quickly to work, this initial screen will be complemented by an in-depth Skills Health Check to fully assess the skills and learning requirements needed to support a return to work.
This may seem a challenging task but this has been thought through - "We will ensure that Jobcentre Plus personal advisors have the training they need and access to sophisticated screening tools to effectively identify those who need the most help with skills early in their claim."
In return for the Government using screening tools on you and handing you a photograph of the nearest College with "go here now" written on it, it is surely right that those on out of work benefits should at appropriate points in their claim be expected to "engage with the advancement service if they have skills needs preventing them from finding work" and Government will enforce this where necessary and appropriate.
So what does this mean for the different benefit groups?
All new claimants will be signposted to the adult advancement and careers service and new Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants will be subject to a skills screen when they start their claim. This will identify those with obvious basic skills needs. Where skill gaps could be a major barrier to finding employment customers will be encouraged to attend a full Skills Health Check. The next stage for those 'failing' the Skills Health Check will be a bout of work-focused training, for most this will be part-time alongside jobsearch activities. For those still on JSA after 6 months who haven't already seen the new, but still lower case, adult advancement and careers service and who have basic skills needs - the Skills Health Check will be mandatory. Repeat claimants may be fast-tracked straight to the Skills Health Check.
Employment and Support Allowance Claimants
From 2008, for new claimants Incapacity Benefits (IB) will be replaced by the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It is estimated that around 16% of ESA claimants will have basic skills needs.
ESA claimants will be subject to a similar screening regime to JSA claimants with a screen soon after the start of their claim and, where appropriate, a mandatory skills health check (now lower case so maybe a different one than for the Jobseekers.) at a later point in their claim.
Clearly ESA claimants will need additional screening so alongside an intensified focus on skills, there will also be improved support for those with mental health problems.
Recognising the life-scarring that long-term unemployment from an early age can leave, the Pathways to Work programme will increase its focus and start moving existing young customers under the age of 25 onto Pathways to Work, and make them subject to the new medical assessment from 2009.
Lone Parents on Income Support
Recognising the diversity inherent within this group. but focusing upon the 37% that remain claimants for five years or more. Skills interventions for lone parents should ensure that the right support is provided at the right time and expectations of lone parents reflect their circumstances.
All will be signposted to the adult advancement and careers service who will advise them of their entitlements to training. In addition, lone parent IS claimants will undergo a skills screen when they start their claim. This will identify those with obvious basic skills needs, who will be encouraged to take up support offered by the new adult advancement and careers service or the local Children's Centre.
At present, lone parents lose eligibility for Income Support and move on to the job-focused JSA regime when their youngest child turns 16. However, we have proposed, subject to consultation, that this age should be lowered to 12 in 2008 and 7 by 2010. All will be encouraged to attend a full Skills Health Check two years before they are due to lose eligibility for IS. Government will consult on whether these Skills Health Checks should be made mandatory.
In Work Credit - something that emerged from the successful Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Project - will provide payments of £40 per week for a year to ease the work transition and aid retention. Two other aspects of ERA will also be rolled out - In work advice from Jobcentre Plus and an Emergency Discretion Fund to divert minor financial emergencies that could prevent them from working.
Skills for Parents - supporting a learning home environment
Early intervention is planned through Sure Start Children's Centres - who working closely with Jobcentre Plus can provide a range of services and support for parents with children under five. All women in receipt of maternity grants will be given information about their local children's centre, so that they can take advantage of the maternity, child health and parenting support services on offer.
Working with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and FE colleges, Children's Centres should be able to signpost people to appropriate help from the new advancement and careers service.
Benefit rules allow JSA customers to study for up to 16 guided learning hours per week, and full time for up to two weeks a year. To date, a limited number of JSA customers who need full-time training for longer than two weeks have been moved from JSA to a training allowance for the duration of their training. In future Government will:
"Put in place the funding arrangements to ensure that all longer term JSA customers who have been through a Skills Health Check and would benefit from intensive training of up to 8 weeks, clearly designed to meet employers needs, would have the opportunity to do so by moving to a training allowance."
Government will also remove the '16 hour rule' in Housing Benefit completely for short-term recipients of Incapacity Benefit, so that they, like long-term IB claimants, will always be able to take up the training they need to enable them to return to work.
The new duty placed on Local Authorities to secure sufficient childcare for working parents, for those looking to work will provide a systematic assessment of childcare needs and a partnership approach - including childcare providers, Jobcentre Plus and local training providers - to closing any gaps in provision - ensuring an absence of sufficient childcare is no longer ac excuse or not working.
The Working Tax Credit provides payments for up to 80% of childcare costs for those in work and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, in collaboration with DWP and DIUS are developing a programme to support childcare costs for 50,000 workless families, operating alongside existing funds administered by Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council.
Sustainable work and progression is a key principle underlying welfare reform and DWP and DIUS have a shared objective to drive progress. For those taking part in the Local Employment Partnerships (LEPs) programme, post employment skills training will be linked to the pre-employment help they receive. For others, continuing engagement with the advancement and careers service will allow them to continue to build on their skills.
The big challenge here is:
"Locally, Jobcentre Plus, the LSC and providers will increasingly need to show how they will bring existing services together to ensure that a seamless service of advice, support and training is offered, tailored to local labour market needs, in conjunction with local employers, and to the needs of individuals seeking work."
Claimants will be 'helped to become job ready' and 'gain the core skills for job entry' (including literacy, numeracy and English language where needed), funded through either Jobcentre Plus funds for the statutory New Deal or LSC funding.
The focus for Government money, of course, remains the Foundation Learning Tier, Skills for Life and Level 2 provision on people who are on benefits or seeking work. Colleges and training providers will need to personalise provision and help people on the road to 'sustainable employment'.
...IMPOSSIBLE NEW LSC ROLE NUMBER 1 - will be overseeing this.
There are some important announcements here that can easily get lost amid the power-balled guff of phrases such as 'unlock the skills within'.
For a start there is the 'person-as member of society' message writ-large in phrases like 'we believe everyone has a responsibility to develop the talents and skills that they will need to succeed in the new economy'.
There is the continuing faith in employers - 'Recognising the vital role played by employers in investing in their employees' skills, we will work with employers to drive a culture of skills development throughout our workforce.'
There is the raising of the education and training participation age (so wilfully mis-represented by journalists - most whom left education at around 21 - as raising the 'school leaving age') to 18.
But biggest of all is the announcement of the legal right to basic and intermediate skills and qualifications (to their first level 2) for adults.
...IMPOSSIBLE NEW LSC ROLE NUMBER 2 - will be overseeing this.
All young adults aged 19-25 will be entitled to free tuition for a first full Level 3 qualification (equivalent to 2 A levels), to include Advanced Apprenticeships. And new Skills Accounts will give them the purchasing power to go to the accredited provider of their choice.
Adult Learning Grants will support 30,000 learners each year on related programmes with up to £30 a week to help those on low incomes meet extra costs. Career Development Loans have helped some 250,000 people pay for over £1 billion of skills development.
And Government will 'strive' to ensure that the supply of training is high quality, responsive, and driven by the needs of employers and learners. (It should be noted that in reports such as this 'strive' is a euphemism for 'do nothing' or at best 'hope for the best, issue a few edicts and pray'. 'Strive' only occurs three times in this report and all in all that is probably a good thing.)
FE and Vocational Qualifications
The current reform of vocational qualifications will continue and Government has pledged to invest in providing modern facilities for FE colleges and in supporting colleges in further moves to specialise. Government has promised to review the policy ensuring that colleges offer specialist vocational excellence.
"Our goal is a further education system that provides specialist vocational excellence in key areas of teaching and learning, both at a national level through National Skills Academies, and at regional and local levels. We want businesses and students to be able to access high-quality education and training in state of the art facilities at colleges that have real expertise and reputation for specialist excellence in different areas of provision."
The new adult advancement and careers service*
Precisely focused at 'providing information advice and support for every single person in the whole country including you' which could be a catchy name if they are stuck. The new service will be trialled over the next two years and be fully operational from 2010-11. As part of this, Government will build on the knowledge and expertise that already exists, including in colleges and the voluntary sector. Government will invite a range of advice organisations in up to 10 localities to develop a joined-up advice service, covering issues such as housing, employment rights and childcare as well as skills and jobs. This is clearly a good thing.
It brings together learndirect and Nextstep services and will link with Jobcentre Plus and a variety of other, some voluntary sector, advice services. This will bring together advice and support on jobs, skills, financial issues, childcare, housing and personal issues., maybe they should call it 'vanessafeltz' or 'clairerayner-online'.
*Still lower case even in titles.
"New Skills Accounts will enable individuals to take control of their learning, helping them to develop and improve their skills to support job entry and progression. Skills Accounts will last a lifetime (now I really am scared) and will be offered to all adults - in or out of work, whatever their skills level. Skills Accounts will put purchasing power into an individual's hands, offering a virtual voucher of state funding, according to a persons entitlement, to purchase relevant learning at an accredited, quality assured provider of their choice.
'Employers have a responsibility to invest in the skills of their employees, and (the Government) will in return support employers to access high quality training that meets their needs.'
The report then goes on to examine how Government will support employers to offer training that effectively meets their needs and those of their employees.
The Government will help employers by:
- putting them in charge of the skills system as it affects employee training. Hence the employer-led Commission for Employment and Skills under Sir Michael Rake; and why employers' Sector Skills Councils will lead the development and approval of all vocational qualifications, including deciding which can attract LSC funding;
- ensuring that Train to Gain is rapidly expanded and made more flexible. The Train to Gain budget will more than double from £440m this year to over £1billion by 2010 (making it the most expensive Pilot since Steve Austin);
- ensuring that Train to Gain is properly linked with Jobcentre Plus employment services and provides funding to help people develop the skills they need to move off benefits and into sustainable employment, linking up pre-work and in-work training;
- ensuring new flexibilities for providers, cutting out bureaucracy and enabling successful providers to expand; and
- improving the quality of training provision, including through the new Framework for Excellence, a new standard for working with employers, and through over £2 billion for sustainable and state of the art buildings and facilities.
- launching a fourth round of employer-led National Skills Academies as part of the drive to improve specialist excellence.
And Train to Gain will be extended to offenders. Who must be delighted.
Local Employment Partnerships
Sarcasm aside, this is a good idea. They are a commitment between an employer and the Government to match up job opportunities with those people most disadvantaged in the labour market. Train-to Gain and LEPs will have to be aligned to link pre-employment and in-employment training. There will also be a trail of the new fast-track in-house accreditation.
IMPOSSIBLE NEW LSC ROLE NUMBER 3 - will be overseeing this. even with Jobcentre Plus's help this will be difficult.
Government are developing plans to give young people a credit of at least £3000 to show employers the value of the training they would bring, and for a new UCAS-style national matching services for businesses offering apprenticeships and individuals applying for places. They are increasing the number of apprenticeships, including for those aged 25 and over. Funding for apprenticeships will increase by almost a quarter between 2007/08 and 2010/11 to support an 18% increase in funded apprenticeship places to 400,000 in 2010/11.
We echo the NIACE conclusions that any moves to integrate skills and welfare policies should be welcomed and could certainly benefit adult learners. The proposals for Skills Healthchecks, more details about a new Adult Advancement and Careers Service and reforms, albeit limited, to the 16-hour rule are good news. The acknowledgement of the need to include the empowerment of local communities in regeneration and skills through the Local Area Agreements and Local Strategic Partnerships suggests that real joined-up thinking may not just be a pipe-dream.
There is much in here to admire. yet too some things to be concerned about. "All the evidence suggests that work is the best form of welfare." Something certainly not evidenced from a casual glance at my working life. but at least it goes on to say that "But work must pay. So we will go further to ensure that the long term unemployed, lone parents and those on incapacity benefits are better off in work even after reasonable transport costs."
Anyway I'm off to sign up my skills account at the new Upper Case 'Citizens Compulsory Advice Bureau' or whatever it will be called. I can't help wondering after all this. if the LSC will need re-structuring?
Some associated stories: