Education, Training and the Needs of the Economy

The government has just announced that £350 million will be used to train 3,500 graduates in science and engineering at 70 university centres, where they will be involved in specific research and development projects.

What could be the problem with that? Nothing, except that it exemplifies the idea that a systemic problem can be solved by chucking some money into a high profile project, rather than addressing the root causes.

The truth is that our country needs a properly planned approach to meeting the needs of the economy, starting with schools and finishing with the ongoing training needs of adults in work.

Recent stories add to this picture.

The old careers service run by Connexions was axed in 2012, with schools told to provide advice with no extra funding, despite a potential cost to each school of £25,000. Not surprisingly in September Ofsted reported that three quarters of schools did not offer adequate careers advice.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank has just claimed that up to 50,000 16 to 18 year olds are in ‘dead-end’ courses which fail to lead to unemployment. There are half a million more with low level qualifications who are not in work. It argues that they would be better off in apprenticeships or in ‘stronger’ courses.

These findings support the findings of a government commissioned review into vocational education which said many courses offered ‘ a diet of low-level qualifications most of which have little or no labour market value’.

At the top end of the process it has just been reported by the Office for National Statistics that the number of graduates working in jobs which don’t require a degree has risen from 39% before the 2008 financial crash to 47% – an appalling waste of the investment and skills with the knock-on effect of pushing the less well qualified unable to compete despite being able to do the work.

The unemployment rate for graduates has risen to 9% (cf 5% early 2008), with graduate salaries falling 3.4% in the year up to Sept 2013 and vacancies falling 19% in the year to October.

Yet at the same time Professor John Perkins Chief Scientific Adviser at the Dept of Business Innovation and Skills has said that any UK economic recovery could be constrained by a lack of engineering skills – backed up by the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, who want to see more scientists and engineers.The UK is already lagging behind other countries in the number of 16 to 18 year olds studying maths and only half of 11 to 14s would consider a career in engineering.

The government is supremely indifferent to all of this and is hell bent on continuing with the destruction of jobs, wages and conditions. Not surprisingly it has no interest in planning for the needs of our economy when the chaos of free market economics is in full swing. It is up to us to develop our vision of how we might plan to ensure our education system helps to deliver the skills we need for a thriving economy.


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