Lifetime skills Guarantee Won’t prevent Brexit skills crisis

Employers and recruiters are welcoming the government’s shake-up of adult education and training – but warn the benefits will be too late to help UK companies facing massive skill shortages post-Brexit.

BT, Amazon, Microsoft UK and Jaguar Land Rover were among the companies quick to applaud Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced on September 29, which will give all people over 18 without an A-level or equivalent qualification the chance to take a college course for free to train or retrain in skills valued by employers. This offer will be available from April in England, and will be paid for through the National Skills Fund.

The government has also announced:

  • more flexible higher education loans, allowing people to space out their study
  • more funding for SMEs to take on apprentices as well as greater flexibility in how their training is structured
  • more funding for digital skills bootcamps, and
  • 62 additional courses under a free online skills toolkit.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) welcomed the initiatives but warned the immediate impact may be limited.

Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo, says: “For skills short sectors that rely heavily on STEM experts, the Prime Minister’s plans to encourage more of the UK’s adults to retrain in specialist technical fields certainly looks set to bolster skills in the future. However, as these training courses can take years to complete and the offer won’t be available until Spring 2021, the plans don’t address the immediate challenge that the country’s employers are going to face after the Brexit transition period.

“Come January 1, employers in sectors that have historically been reliant on hiring flexible resources from across Europe to fill skills gaps – including IT, construction and engineering – will face a real struggle to source these experts. The details published so far on the points-based immigration system provide a disappointing lack of detail around the movement of and access to highly skilled independent professionals across Europe.”

Bowers called on the government to work swiftly on apprenticeship funding reforms to help people coming off furlough. “We’ve long called for a relaxation around the Apprenticeship Levy rules to make the scheme more suitable for today’s modern world and during lockdown the flaws of the current apprenticeship funding became apparent. Despite millions of people finding themselves out of work looking for new employment opportunities or on furlough, businesses were unable to use their levy pot to fund training,” she says.

The changes could help thousands of Britons start a new career in construction or trades, according to Ben Dyer, CEO of Powered Now, a billing, invoicing and quotation application which specialises in trades. “As construction in the UK has continued to rebound and grow post-lockdown, SMEs within the trades have very much been the engine room for this recovery and it is fantastic to see that the government is making advancements to further support the sector,” he says, pointing to a survey conducted by the company which found one in five people in the UK are considering employment within a trade sector for an additional source of income or a new career.

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