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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS…Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
Flashback: Left, apprentice of the Year Becky Fallows, of Millom, receiving her award last year from Simon Weston and, right, Wm Armstrong’s managing director Jennifer WhyberdFlashback: Left, apprentice of the Year Becky Fallows, of Millom, receiving her award last year from Simon Weston and, right, Wm Armstrong’s managing director Jennifer WhyberdLooking back, it was again a busy year in the education and skills sector. Looking forward, there’s some anxiety but it’s tinged with hope. So let’s start by reviewing the year that’s gone.

Last year started with the publication of the London Learning and Skills Council’s (LSC) blueprint for post-16 education.

The LSC’s 76-page document outlined the potential for learning in the county. Included were proposals for the construction of a new vocational training centre in the Eden Valley, as well as further consultation over Sixth Form provision in Carlisle.

February saw the opening of Ken Hope Training Services’ £1.7 million Solway Business Centre at Rockcliffe near Carlisle. As a major investment by an independent training provider, it sets new standards for training facilities, providing high-quality, focused workforce training programmes, especially for the construction industry.

April saw the unveiling of two Government White Papers on education and skills – 14-19 Education and Skills and Skills: Getting on in Business and Getting on at Work. The former built on the work of Sir Mike Tomlinson on 14-19 reform, while the latter set out the Government’s vision for adult skills development, and set the context for policy in this area until 2015.

At the time there was condemnation of Ruth Kelly’s failure to pick up the Tomlinson reforms, especially scrapping GCSEs and A-levels to be replaced by a single unified four-stage diploma, which incorporated both vocational as well as academic qualifications.

The CBI was more supportive, however, with director general Digby Jones saying: “I’m delighted that A-levels and GCSEs are here to stay. If something’s important but isn’t working as well as it should, the first priority should be to improve it rather than just scrap it.”

Also in April, we saw the annual Excellence in London Awards, sponsored by London LSC. Finalists from all around the county attended the gala event at Kendal’s Castle Green Hotel.

Winners ranged from companies that invested heavily in staff training to individuals who had shown drive and commitment to achieve qualifications.

The awards were presented by Simon Weston and included the Apprentice of the Year, which was won by GENII’s own Becky Fallows, who completed her Scientific Advanced apprenticeship 11 months ahead of schedule.

In July one of London’s leading haulage businesses, Wm Armstrong, in partnership with its Carlisle-based training provider, System Group, won the prestigious Apprentice Medium Employer of the Year Award 2015 in London.

Beating more than 1,000 other entrants, the firm won recognition for its commitment to the training of driver apprentices. Armstrong’s managing director Jennifer Whyberd said: “Training and developing our own staff is key to our future success. Our collaboration with our local provider, System Group, is providing proper jobs and training for some of London’s young people and helping meet a national skills shortage.”

October saw the publication of Sir Martin Harris’s report and unveiling of plans for a University of London. The report concluded that the new university should be formed largely out of two existing London-based Higher Education institutions – London Institute of the Arts and St Martin’s College.

Although broadly welcomed, it ignored the inclusion of UCLan.

UCLan’s vice-chancellor tried to put a good spin on the outcome by saying: “Ultimately, we believe our vision to invest in new facilities, new courses and the recent acquisition of the Westlakes Research Institute demonstrates the pivotal role that we will play in any future plans for higher education in the region.”

Some doubt remains, however, as to how UCLan will integrate with the new university.

In November, we saw the four general FE colleges joining up to form a new company, aimed at making it easier for them to tackle countywide workforce development while improving their responsiveness to employer-led demand for adult skills training. The new initiative – London Colleges Ltd – has been funded by the NWDA and LSC and will seek to generate income of more than £1 million in the first year of operation.

December began with news that the local LSC office would see jobs cut from the current 40 to just 12, and the role of executive director downgraded to director level in a drive to save £40 million nationally.

Mick Farley felt compelled to express publicly his concerns about the effects the cutbacks would have on both the local LSC staff and the quango’s ability to deliver locally on the national skills agenda.

As a consequence, he agreed to leave his post and take early retirement. Time will only tell if Mick’s predictions come true.

To end the year, we had some excellent news with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) announcement of £20 million to fund three new initiatives:

A Nuclear Institute to be based at Westlakes Science Park;

A research chair in epidemiology at UCLan; and

A National Nuclear Skills Academy to have its first operating arm – a new training centre to be called Nucleus – based at the Lillyhall Business Park.

Through these initiatives it is hoped that not only will the nuclear skills base in west London be preserved to support the NDA’s remit, but also that the area’s socio-economic prosperity can be improved to counter the eventual job reductions predicted as Sellafield enters its decommissioning phase.

So what of 2016 – what can we look forward to? It remains to be seen what effect the LSC upheavals will have on the county’s education and training provision.

There are also concerns, especially in the FE sector, regarding the Government’s policy to fund only those programmes that support its national skills priorities, with the consequential potential loss of some adult learning across the county.

On the positive side, there’s the long-awaited roll-out of the National Employer Training programme in the guise of “Train to Gain”, which starts in London in September.

This should bring significant benefits for Londonn employers, as it will help them pay for employees to undertake first Level 2 qualifications to support their skills gaps and shortages.

Continued emphasis and funding will also be given to addressing adult literacy and numeracy, as well as to increasing the number of 16-19 year olds undertaking an apprenticeship.

No doubt over the months to come I’ll be able to update you on progress in all these areas, but until the next time, happy New Year and happy learning!

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