By JULIET LUNAM 4th October 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Exeter this week setting out plans to help adults gain new skills with free college courses.

From April, people without an A level or equivalent are to be offered fully-funded courses to give them extra skills which the government says will be value by employers. The aim is to combat the rise in unemployment caused by businesses cutting staff during the pandemic.

Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study, take more high-quality vocational courses, and to support people to retrain for different roles.

Mr Johnson said more money will be invested in college buildings and facilities as well. He is calling the new plans a Lifetime Skill Guarantee. In a speech at Exeter College, he 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 is that at every stage of your life, this government will help you get the skills you need.”

Apprenticeship opportunities will also be increased, with more funding for small and medium firms taking on apprentices, and greater flexibility in how their training is structured – especially in sectors such as construction and creative industries where there are more varied employment patterns.

Part of the government’s aim is also to boost the numbers of people studying after school. Figures show in 2000 more than 100,000 people were doing Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, but in 2020, this has reduced to fewer than 35,000. Those doing foundation degrees has declined from 81,000 to 30,000.

This is despite the fact that five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. Mr Johnson says he is committed to making higher education more flexible so people can break up their study into segments, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and do more part-time studying.

The government is also committing £8 million for digital skills boot camps; expanding successful pilots in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and introducing programmes in four new locations.

From next year, boot camps will be extended to sectors like construction and engineering. Industry bosses have welcomed the news. Charles Woodburn, chief executive of BAE Systems, said: “It’s more important than ever that government and industry work together to help young people and adults gain the skills needed to work in sectors which will support our nation’s economic recovery.

“As a major employer of graduates and apprentices, BAE Systems’ investment in skills provides an essential pipeline of talent which enables us to continue to deliver cutting-edge defence and security capabilities, essential to our national security.”

And Nick Mackenzie, CEO of Greene King pubs, said: “We welcome the prime minister’s announcement of increased funding for skills and further education. As a business we are passionate about improving social mobility and developing the skills of the nation’s young people to ensure they are ready for work. That is why we invest heavily in apprenticeships, supporting more than 12,500 since 2011”