Speech: PM's skills speech: 29 September 2020

Prime Ministers Office 10 Downing Street

September 29
11:31 2020

There are many reasons to for me I should say to come here to Exeter College the outstanding Further Education College in Devon.

You have a total of 462 courses some which I tried this morning from particle physics to cake decorating.

And you offer your students an extraordinary chance to skill themselves in everything from football coaching to specialist Devon cookery, industrial robotics, heavy vehicle manufacture and design.

And I am thrilled that you offer philosophy, and languages, and even classical civilisation but this is the home of the practical, the hands-on, disciplines that are not only academically and intellectually challenging but which are also of immediate practical usefulness and relevance to the world we live in.

And I dont just mean useful for individual jobs and livelihoods.

All of us in this country need you to have those practical skills we need those practical skills collectively, as a society and as an economy - more than ever.

And so today I want to set out how this government will offer a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to help people train and retrain at any stage in their lives and enable us not just to come through this crisis, but to come back stronger, and build back better.

Our economy has been shaken by COVID, and in the hand-to-mouth scrabblings of the pandemic the shortcomings of our labour market and our educational system have been painfully apparent.

In the last few months I have been touring labs where people, many of them young, are working flat out on testing samples testing for the disease, testing for the efficacy of potential vaccines, testing the tests.

And it is hard work. It requires endless patience, and good hand-eye coordination.

It also requires an excellent grounding in lab techniques and in the science and every time I have been fascinated to find that a sizeable proportion of the technicians are from overseas.

And though I welcome that, because it is one of the glories of our education system that it attracts so many people from around the world, we have to face the fact that at this moment when we need them so much, there is a shortage of UK-trained lab technicians, just as there is a shortage of so many crucial skills.

We are short of skilled construction workers, and skilled mechanics, and skilled engineers, and we are short of hundreds of thousands of IT experts.

And it is not as though the market does not require these skills. The market will pay richly.

The problem is one of supply and somehow our post-18 educational system is not working in such a way as to endow people with those skills.

And look I dont for a second want to blame our universities. I love our universities, and it is one of this countrys great achievements massively to have expanded higher education.

But we also need to recognise that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job, and end up wondering whether they did the right thing.

Was it sensible to rack up that debt on that degree? Were they ever given the choice to look at the more practical options, the courses just as stimulating - that lead more directly to well-paid jobs?

We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which dont get them the jobs that they want.

And the truth is were not giving anywhere near enough of the right kind of training or support to the fifty per cent of young people who dont want to go to university, and so were depriving them of the chance to find their vocation and develop a fulfilling, well-paid career.

And so the result is business isnt happy; the economy is under-productive; and many working adults are stuck in jobs without much future when they are hungry for new opportunities.

So it is time for change, and for radical change.

Let us begin by admitting that part of the problem is that not every FE college is as superb as Exeter College.

We need to invest in skills, and we need to invest in FE.

That is why we are putting 1.5 billion into upgrading and improving colleges across the country, fixing the leaky ceilings, bringing forward 200 million this year.

The facilities here are awesome. I tried them myself this morning. And improving all FE is part of our levelling up agenda to ensure that the same quality applies everywhere.

And as everybody knows, you cant acquire skills in the classroom alone. You need to learn on the job, to build up the muscle memory and not just the theoretical understanding.

So I can announce today that we will be expanding apprenticeships, reforming the system so that unspent funds can be used more easily to support apprenticeships not just in big companies, but in the SMEs where there is so much potential for job creation.

And we want many more of these apprenticeships to be portable so you can take them from company to company.

Suppose you are in a small start-up making videos for Youtube, and the project ends so youve got to move to another such small company. Under our plans, you will be able to take that apprenticeship to your new employer and it wont die with the end of the contract.

But if we are going to reform our post-18 education, we must go much further. Weve got to end the pointless, nonsensical gulf that has been fixed for generations more than 100 years between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education.

Its absurd to talk about skills in this limited way. Everything is ultimately a skill a way of doing something faster, better, more efficiently, more accurately, more confidently, whether it is carving, or painting, or brick laying, or writing, or drawing, or mathematics, Greek philosophy; every single study can be improved not just by practice but by teaching.

So now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE.

We are going to change the funding model so that it is just as easy to get a student loan to do a year of electrical engineering at an FE college or do two years of electrical engineering as it is to get a loan to do a three year degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

The Augar review highlighted the complexity of the funding system, the bias that propels young people into universities and away from technical education. It is time to end that bias.

We will give FE colleges access to the main student finance system, so that they are better able to compete with universities; not for every FE course, but for a specific list of valuable and mainly technical courses to be agreed with employers.

And in the coming years, as part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we will move to a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education and suddenly, with that four year entitlement, and with the same funding mechanism, you bring universities and FE closer together; you level up between them, and a new vista of choice opens up.

I want every student with the aptitude and the desire to go to university to get the support they need, but I also want all young people to be given a real choice in life, and not to feel there is only one route to success.

At the moment many young people feel they have to go for the degree option. They feel they have only one chance to study, and to borrow. They might as well go for the maximum, and get a degree.

Under our plans you could go for a one-year technical qualification and launch yourself at life or you could do that, and then go to university later on. You have the choice.

And it will be easier for older people to borrow to do courses locally - and to study and train part-time to acquire the skills that can transform their lives.

And of course we need this nimbleness now, this flexibility to acquire new skills, because COVID has massively accelerated changes that were already happening in the UK economy, whether in retail or in restaurant chains.

And while the government is building on our furlough scheme,

And were devising ever more imaginative ways to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, including the Winter Economy Plan, which Rishi Sunak the Chancellor announced last week,

Alas as Rishi said, we cannot save every job.

But what we can do is give everybody, give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs.

Of the workforce in 2030, ten years from now, the vast majority are already in jobs right now. But a huge number of them are going to have to change jobs to change skills and at the moment, if youre over 23, the state provides virtually no free training to help you.

In fact we have seen a haemorrhage, in the last 20 years, in adult education a million fewer than there were.

We are going to change that right now. We are expanding the digital boot camps where you can learn IT, whatever your age, replicating our highly successful training camps in Manchester and Birmingham in four more locations.

Above all, from next April, we will introduce a new funding promise. As part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we will now fund technical courses for adults equivalent to A level, all of which teach skills that are highly in demand.

Theyll give anyone who left school without an A-Level, or equivalent, the qualifications they need when they need them, when they need them, helping people to change jobs and find work in the burgeoning new sectors that this country is creating.

So suppose you work in retail or hospitality, and you think you are going to need t

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