The Levelling Up White Paper adds little to the Tories existing policies designed to ‘upskill’ young people. Way down in the policies chapter, you’ll find, amongst other things, proposals to.
- Create a handful of specialist 16-19 Maths schools
- Allow ‘talented’ 16-year-olds from disadvantaged areas to be fast tracked entries to high performing sixth forms. New ones will be open where they don’t exist
- Establish a National Academy – no details of how, where and what
It also picks up pledges in last year’s Skills White Paper such as:
- An entitlement to a cost-free level 3 qualifications for adults without them
- A commitment to the 4-year life time skills guarantee, but financed through a loan system
- Setting up more Institutes of Technology, driven by employers and ‘skills partnerships’, based in local FE colleges and universities.
There’s a mention about the need to change the way the apprenticeship levy operates, while for those lower down the age group, 55 ‘education investment areas’ (EIAs) in lower preforming areas.
Levelling Up continues to use the ‘human capital’ approach of the Skills White Paper, but also central to previous policy initiatives from both the Tories and Labour. This equates a lack of skilled jobs with a lack of skilled (qualified) workers, while those with high qualifications are rewarded with high paid employment. Because 55% of London working age population have qualifications to level 4 (post-A-level) – much higher than elsewhere, and compares with 32% in the North East, this is reflected, the WP implies, by average life time earnings in London and its surrounding areas being 33% higher than elsewhere.
But London is a graduate magnet. As a graduate you are quite likely to move there after completing university. Likewise if there are few employment opportunities in the Northern seaside town you’ve been brought up in, you are going to be less prepared to continue in education. That is unless you are able to attend university and then leave the area.
But in many respects, despite regional differences, the UK population’s qualification level is relatively high. In all areas, well over 50% are qualified to level 3 /Advanced level, with 70% qualified to level 2 GCSE and with less than 10% having no qualifications at all. For those younger, levels are much higher. This is significant because for many, if not most of the jobs available in the UK, people are more than qualified to do them. And as a recent Resolution Foundation study shows, those who lost jobs in the pandemic, particularly young people, are more likely to be forced into insecure, poorly paid ‘precarious’ employment.
In other words, the reason for many job vacancies post-pandemic and post-Brexit, is because you can’t get people to do them. Unemployment rates might be low, but in most sectors pay increases are still below inflation. There’s now evidence that increased numbers, including young people, are withdrawing from the labour market. It’s true the White Paper contains other policy commitments, that go beyond just improving qualification and skills levels. But as others have shown, they are weak and ineffective.