Boris Johnson has announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, vowing to give workers “skills valued by employers” to help people become more resilient to a Covid-19-hit jobs market.
Under the new plans, adults in England who do not have an A-level or equivalent qualification will get the chance to take a free, fully funded further education course.
The number of people on payrolls in the UK was down roughly 695,000 in August compared to March, according to Office for National Statistics figures, and continuing Covid-19 disruption to workplaces means that rising unemployment is likely, particularly when the furlough scheme ends on October 31.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) September 29, 2020
Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the job retention scheme’s replacement with his winter economic plan. But the initiative’s efforts to bring back workers on a third of their hours – with the government and employer splitting at least 77 per cent of their full salary – were criticised by the Trade Union Congress for failing to include “high-quality retraining” opportunities for employees.
Johnson’s announcement today aims to fill that gap. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee will kick off in April and will be funded through the National Skills Fund, extending what was an offer for learners under 23 to include all ages.
The Prime Minister said: “As the chancellor has said, we cannot, alas, save every job. What we can do is give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs. So my message today is that at every stage of your life, this government will help you get the skills you need.
“We’re transforming the foundations of the skills system so that everyone has the chance to train and retrain.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: “Our long-term recovery is going to depend on us helping those who need to retrain or develop new skills to do so, and quickly.
“I have made it my personal mission to shift the outdated attitudes that too many people in this country subscribe to, that technical and further education is somehow worth less than getting a degree. We cannot afford this short-sighted prejudice. This country is bursting with talent but it does not always go hand-in-hand with opportunity.”
Our Ride Out Recession Alliance is doing its upmost to protect jobs as well as preventing homelessness. We are working with partners to come up with vital solutions to the unfolding work crisis and skills play an essential role in that.
As Big Issue founder John Bird put it: “Now is the time to jump on the distance learning gravy train. To promote among employers that it is in their interest to allow employees to gain more skills than are needed for the job, so that they can grow with a changing job market. And also that we get people who have fallen into unemployment to train up for new job chances while they await improvements at home.“
The government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee has been cautiously welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry. Director-General Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The measures proposed by the Prime Minister are an important step forward. They can help solve the most urgent skills challenge facing our generation. Retraining was already a vital priority for the UK. The significant unemployment coronavirus is leaving in its wake only accelerates the need for people to develop new skills and adapt to new ways of working.
“The Lifetime Skills Guarantee and flexible loans to support bitesize learning are a strong start. But to really shift gears, this must be backed up by meaningful progress on evolving the Apprenticeship Levy into a flexible skills levy.”
These measures can help solve the most urgent skills challenge facing our generation. Retraining was already a vital priority for the UK
But Labour have warned that the guarantee will do little to help workers in the short-term.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, added: “A week ago Labour called for a national retraining strategy fit for the crisis Britain faces, but what the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April.
“By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work.
“These measures will not reverse the devastating impact of a decade of cuts, and will not give workers the skills and support they need in the months ahead.”