The Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions

Johnson’s skills announcement falls flat

30 September 2020 / Campaign | News

The Prime Minister’s announcement this week on training and skills has been met with scepticism and as another “sound bite with no delivery” – another idea that may well disappear in the rear view mirror. As my colleague Steve Turner of Unite said: “Its all piecemeal without a cohesive sense of direction or joined up thinking”.

The Prime Minister blamed lack of funding for “our failures in technical education” and said this “Government is putting it right” while failing to acknowledge we are in the fourth term of a Conservative government.

Unions through the TUC and CSEU; skills bodies including Enginiuty and Cogent and employer’s federations including Make UK, the Chemical Industries, UK Steel, Aerospace and Defence and others have called on the Government to establish a National Skills Task Force to combat the worst economic effects of Covid, to protect jobs, maintain a skills base in the UK and to get some joined up thinking.

Johnson’s announcement said nothing about establishing such a body – or using the Apprenticeship Levy to help with a national retaining and reskilling programme and astonishingly he announced any retraining and reskilling programme would have to wait until April 2021 to introduce new measures will be far too late. The damage is already being done.

Engineering and manufacturing is reeling from the impact of Covid. In aerospace alone 14,000 jobs have been lost. These are skilled workers who could be re-trained  and re-skilled which will help the nation’s recovery.

The sector skills council Enginuity covering engineering and manufacturing (a body on which I represent trade unions) already uses data science to show that upskilling does not necessarily mean there is a need for a full qualification – even transferring between sectors, because skilled workers already have a range of transferrable skills and experiences.

We also need a targeted approach which as Enginuity says: “Is a better, more efficient use of the public purse and means that new skills and training can be focussed directly to need. This also means a more agile response as furlough scheme comes to a conclusion and in anticipation of the redundancies and employment uncertainty. This is also critical to respond to Industry 4.0, and a green manufacturing recovery.”

We urgently need a National Skills Taskforce underpinned by a strategy that ensures no one is left behind or excluded from re-training and re-skilling and to ensure business has the skills needed for a sustainable recovery and to avoid a future skills shortage.

We also need to allow employers to support supply chains through flexible use of Apprenticeship Levy funds to help with national plan and for industry to develop a strong and resilient supply chain which is critical to a sustainable recovery and to ensure we are ready and prepared for any recovery which will have to respond to digital revolution now upon us and the green (net zero) economy.

Tony Burke is President of the CSEU