College principals from County Durham and Darlington were in Parliament today to lobby MPs for more funding to address skills shortages holding back much needed economic growth.
They joined further education leaders from across the country taking part in a day of action led by the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Employment and Learning Providers and City & Guilds under the banner of the Future Skills Coalition.
The ‘Mind the Skills Gap’ campaign says that without increased investment in further education we will not be able to fill the skills gaps in key areas of the economy and deliver the labour market the country needs.
The AoC said long-term cuts in further education funding have contributed to a skills shortage which is hampering efforts to spark economic growth in key sectors including digital, health, energy and construction. It is calling for an extra £400m for colleges next year in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement on March 15 to address this.
In a joint report from the Open University and British Chambers of Commerce last year, 78% of organisations reported reduced output, profitability or growth due to skills shortages.
But this comes at a time when participation in adult education is falling, from 4.4m in 2003-04 to 1.5m in 2019-20, meaning millions fewer people are upskilling and retraining.
In its 2021 annual report for education, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said: “Further education colleges and sixth forms have seen the largest falls in per-pupil funding of any sector of the education system since 2010–11. Funding per student aged 16–18 in further education and sixth form colleges fell by 14% in real terms between 2010–11 and 2019–20.”
Total spending on adult skills and apprenticeships is set to increase by 22% between 2019 and 2024 as a result of £900m in extra funding announced in the 2021 Spending Review. But the AoC says this only reverses a fraction of past cuts; total adult skills spending will still be 22% below 2009 levels.
To support the sector to address skills shortages, the Future Skills Coalition is calling for:
- A right to lifelong learning – that would help reverse the historic and damaging decline in the number of adults upskilling, retraining and filling vacancies in key skills shortage areas.
- Fair, accessible and effective funding – to ensure the further education sector has the resources to recruit the staff needed to teach subjects in key skills shortage areas.
- A national strategy to support local, inclusive growth – that would support colleges and other providers to meet skills shortages in their local economies.
Natalie Davison-Terranova, Principal and Chief Executive of Bishop Auckland College, and Kate Roe, Principal and Chief Executive of Darlington College, have been at Westminster today to support the campaign.
Natalie Davison-Terranova said: “Colleges are ready to play their part in the Government’s plans to grow the economy, but they need support and investment to be able to do that. All the industries where skills shortages are being felt most acutely are serviced by skills and qualifications colleges deliver.
“Investing in skills gives instant and long-term returns through higher productivity, helping employers find and develop productive workers and in turn delivering higher wages.”
Kate Roe added: “It was important to come to Westminster today to be part of the #mindtheskillsgap campaign. We have seen first-hand in Darlington how higher skills provided by our sector give both short and long term returns to the local economy.
“If we develop such skills we allow employers to become more productive, adapt to changing markets and innovate, which in turn delivers higher wages.”
For more information on the #MindThe SkillsGap campaign visit the AoC website.