The St Martin’s Group look ahead at skills and apprenticeships

In 2022/23, Further Education (FE), skills, and apprenticeships came to the forefront of the national education debate and the Government’s approach to tackling the UK’s economic quandaries. Subsequently, announcements followed for new training programmes for out-of-work individuals over 50; help for businesses employing apprentices, by reducing the steps to register new apprentices; and the publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which set out how significant increases to apprenticeships will be used to plug the gaps in the NHS’s workforce. Despite these recent efforts, more can still be done to unlock the potential of skills to drive economic growth for the UK.

That is why The St Martin’s Group (SMG) has recently published its manifesto for our future skills system, outlining a set of recommendations for Government and stakeholders that will help create a more effective and robust system. By doing so, we’ll be able to realise our shared ambition of providing opportunities for all and supporting employers with the skills that meet their demand.

Underpinning SMG’s manifesto are three missions and commitments that include measures for broadening participation, simplifying careers advice, enhancing the employer voice, promoting innovation and establishing a stable and sustainable funding system.

Mission 1: A system that provides opportunities for all

At SMG, we believe that it is vitally important that the UK’s system is a central path towards opportunity and social mobility. Therefore, we want a skills system that creates opportunities to broaden participation. That’s why, as part of our manifesto we recommend balancing the focus on higher/degree apprenticeships with the lower-level courses for social mobility and progression purposes. These courses play an important role in helping individuals gain employment and skills they need to be able to progress in their careers.

We also want to broaden opportunity through careers advice and expanding guidance to all. To achieve this, we recommend simplifying and communicating the wide range of pathways available to learners through a communications campaign focused on promoting the value of vocational and technical education targeted to all ages.

Mission 2: A skills system that truly works for employers

Enhancing employer voice and balancing involvement in the system is critical to creating a system that works for employers. We therefore want to encourage the development of a clear and effective route for employers to input into central and regional government understandings of skills needs.

We also want to enable employers to provide the right offers for those who are taking up an apprenticeship. There should be a sharper focus on what employers need during the development of courses and so our manifesto recommends the development of courses more heavily involves employers. The requirements for maths and English should be approved by employers and should only be included as part of a course if it is relevant to the apprenticeship course.

Finally, we want to support innovation and secure the future of apprenticeships. Designing apprenticeships needs to be more flexible and agile in order to stay relevant in an ever-changing workforce.

Mission 3: A stable system that is quality focused and sustainable

In order to create a more stable, quality focused and sustainable skills system, we would like to widen the Levy into an ‘Apprenticeship, Skills and Productivity Levy’, with 50% of the levy ringfenced for apprenticeships.

We also want to see the development of a more cohesive system, with clearer lines of responsibility between different bodies that will help streamline work and remove duplicity and uncertainty.

Finally, we would like to see a more holistic approach to measuring success – one which involves government, employers, and learners in defining these metrics.

Moving forward, we hope to see a “comprehensive and accessible system, creating a skilled, diverse, and adaptable workforce by supporting career development throughout an individual’s life; from those starting their first job, to those who are seeking to upskill or reskill during their career”.