On Tuesday two events took place in the House of Commons that displayed how incoherent the Government is over one of its high profile ‘solutions’ to the needs of businesses for trained individuals that the Government has claimed is needed. Firstly there were a couple of questions that arose in the Chamber directed at Greg Clark Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy “What steps his Department has taken to tackle the challenges set out in the industrial strategy” The question was asked by two MPs who are both Conservatives. Michelle Donelan from Chippenham and Julian Sturdy from York Outer. However Greg Clark did not respond and instead one of his junior Ministers did. Claire Perry is responsible for Energy and Clean Growth. Her response was:
“Blimey, Mr Speaker, I am getting through them today… the industrial strategy is encouraging innovation across the UK, developing those high-quality jobs and wages we all campaign for. Sector deals are about building long-term partnerships and businesses, and the grand challenges in areas such as clean growth will equip the UK to seize opportunities and be a world leader in the industries of the future.”
Michelle then went on to state: “One of the biggest challenges we face is the STEM skills gap… What work is my right hon. Friend doing with the Department for Education to ensure that we are developing the skills needed by businesses?” which led to this response from Claire: “We are working with the Department for Education to grow STEM skills in the UK through initiatives such as T-levels, by investing more than £400 million”. So then Julian asked: “The Government’s commitment to creating a globally competitive technical education system must be applauded. Can the Minister update me on discussions she is having directly with businesses about the creation of new institutes of technology, and will she consider rolling them out as quickly as possible?” and Claire answered “My hon. Friend is right: these have to be a collaboration between the Government, business and local decision makers. We will announce in the autumn which institutions will make up the country-wide network, supported by £170 million of funding for the institutes of technology. As we set out in May, the first pupils will sit the first of the new T-levels in September 2020.”
All of this would potentially be of interest if one was planning for business that needed growth after 2028 or thereabouts. The challenge is that when the first set of T-Levels are available in 2020, it will then take two years for the students who study to work through them. However it is known that the 2020 provision is intended as a pilot set of arrangements. It is not until 2022 that the full set of T-Levels will be available so that suggests that for many businesses the earliest that they would have potential access to students from 2024. However on the same day as the above set of questions were asked, Anne Milton who is the skills Minister responsible for the T-Levels stated in front of the Education select Committee that if her children were of an age to study the T-Levels that she would delay their applications for at least a year as it takes time for parents to gain confidence in such provision. What she failed to do was point out that the same sort of caution will impact businesses. This means that they are unlikely to trust T-Levels until they have been circulating for several years. Another risk for the T-Levels is the way in which the current politicians dealt with a set of qualifications that were introduced in 2008 by the Labour Party when it was in Government. The coalition Government ended these proposals when they arrived in office. There is a risk that Labour if re-elected could take the same approach. It is clear that these T-Levels carry many risks before 2028 and beyond!