The Prime Minister is to set out plans to transform the training and skills system.
Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course – providing them with skills valued by employers, and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them.
This offer will be available from April in England, and will be paid for through the National Skills Fund.
Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high-quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future.
These reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities – including over £1.5 billion in capital funding. More details will be set out in a further education white paper later this year.
The announcement has been welcomed by the Association of Colleges. Its Chief Executive, David Hughes, said: “For many years, further education colleges have not received the recognition they deserve for the outstanding work they do for people of all ages and communities – and they have suffered from a decade of neglect during austerity.
“The Prime Minister’s speech shows that he recognises this and supports the power and mission of colleges. It places colleges at the heart of the recovery, supporting people and employers in the recovery and renewal we all want to see. I am delighted that the government has decided to invest in colleges because they will help enhance people’s life chances for years to come.”
Louise Bennett, the chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, also welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech in which he committed to transforming the foundations of the skills system.
Louise said: “A commitment to ongoing skills training would be welcome at any time but now, more than ever, individuals and businesses are going to need to be flexible in what they require as we look to rebuild the economy when we are through the worst of the crisis.
“Individuals will need new skills to access the jobs that are going to be available and it’s vital for the economy that we have a workforce that is ready to meet the challenges ahead.
“The types of jobs available was already going through massive change as the world has become more digital over the past few years and the current crisis has accelerated some of that change.
“The Chamber has been calling for adult skills training to be in step with those changes and, while the devil is always in the detail, this looks like a move in the right direction.”
Apprenticeship opportunities will also be increased, with more funding for SMEs 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.
In 2000, over 100,000 people were doing Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, but that has reduced to fewer than 35,000 now. Those doing foundation degrees has declined from 81,000 to 30,000.
As a result, only 10% of adults hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification, compared to 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.
This is despite the fact that five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.
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, helping the country build back better and support our refreshed Industrial Strategy.
David Hughes added: “A new entitlement to a fully-funded Level 3 qualification and more flexibility built into L4 and L5 are important steps forward as the government begins to implement the Augar Review. There is a lot more to do to stimulate demand from adults and employers and to support colleges to have the capacity to meet needs. I am looking forward to working with officials on the details and the legislation which will be part of the white paper later this year.”