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The Council of Skills Advisors: Essential skills leading the way

Back in November 2021, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced he was launching a Council of Skills Advisors. The Council, led by former Education Secretary Lord David Blunkett, was charged with “recommending the change we need to ensure everyone leaves education job ready and life ready, explore how to ensure that young people are literate in the technology of the day” and “raise the sights of all pupils”. 

Many of the 851 organisations that form the Skills Builder Partnership are focused on building the skills of millions so that they have the skills to succeed in life - so it’s refreshing to see that even in the fast paced world of Westminster politics, a party is giving the issue the attention it needs. 

Following our meeting with Lord Blunkett and written submission to the Council, they’ve today published their report Learning and skills for economic recovery, social cohesion and a more equal Britain”. We’re delighted that Skills Builder Partnership, our Universal Framework, and essential skills are highlighted in the report’s recommendations. 

Following a period of prolonged political upheaval, it is now important that practical innovations with a track record of improving life outcomes are adopted in the policy space. 

What does the report say? 

This is a big report: the list of recommendations spans 18 pages and covers everything from early years through to all stages of formal education, as well as adult and lifelong learning. 

It’s as ambitious as it is big, taking a long term view of the changes needed in the skills agenda to transform the British economy. Two of the topline recommendations were trailed by Bridget Phillipson, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, in her speech to the Labour Party Conference. We can now learn about these in more detail:

A National Skills Taskforce (NST) will be established, with key stakeholders and partners engaged in the process. The NST would join up decentralised decision-making bodies by involving democratic institutions, employers and trade unions in central government initiatives that accelerate individuals’ learning and skill development.

The Apprenticeship Levy will become an Apprenticeship and Learning Levy to transform employers’ investment in skills. This aims to maximise the use of the levy and rebalance the current direction of spend, particularly towards supporting 16-25 year olds and ever-developing technological advancements.

During the launch, Bridget Phillipson explicitly listed these two policies as Labour party commitments, with Skills England realising the ambitions of the National Skills Taskforce. 

Other prominent recommendations include a complete shakeup of school and adult careers services and a learning and skills “passport” to build a profile throughout working life. 

What about essential skills?

Essential skills are those highly transferable skills that everyone needs to do almost any job, and which make knowledge and technical skills fully productive. They are: Listening, Speaking, Creativity, Problem Solving, Leadership, Teamwork, Aiming High and Staying Positive. 

At Skills Builder, we’ve developed a Universal Framework that breaks these eight skills down into teachable, measurable steps, going from absolute beginner through to mastery in the skills. The Framework was developed over five years in collaboration with leading organisations including the CBI, CIPD, Gatsby Foundation, Careers & Enterprise Company, with input from educators and employers.

It’s therefore highly encouraging that the report mentions “essential skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and resilience should be a key element of a new curriculum using proven, leading frameworks such as the Skills Builder Universal Framework”, and further recommends that the Framework should be “promoted, throughout the education system.” (Learning and skills for economic recovery, p.33)

Over 2.3 million opportunities to build essential skills with the Universal Framework were delivered last year alone. That millions of employees, young people and children can all build the same skills at different levels demonstrates the Framework’s universality: it is ideally placed to be further adopted and scaled at a policy level. The Framework would be a core component of the learning and skills “passport” mentioned above. 

What next?

This report is full of innovative but deliverable ideas and recommendations. The challenge now, then, is putting them into action. As commitments in the next Labour party manifesto, an incoming government would be able to make an impact from day one. 

But delivering these recommendations will be costly during economically tough times. Lord Blunkett closed the launch event this morning by stating that if the UK were to bring itself to the same spending level as European Union countries, we’d need to spend an extra £6.1 billion annually on skills development. 

This means that developing skills - whether basic, essential or technical - needs to be recognised as a worthwhile investment that will both contribute to long-term growth and tackle disadvantage and inequality. This isn’t just wishful thinking: our Essential Skills Tracker 2022 showed that individuals that possess higher levels of essential skills earn up to £5,900 more per year and are 52% less likely to be out of education or employment. 

We look forward to meeting Labour and further exploring how we can translate the report’s recommendations into reality.