Work-based learning providers from across Wales will gather at Cardiff City Stadium today (June 27) for the National Training Federation for Wales’ annual conference, ‘Future Skills for a Future Generation’. It’s an important and very topical theme as we face up to the key challenge of equipping employers and individuals to meet the evolving skills needs of the future Welsh workforce.
The conference comes at quite a volatile time for the Welsh economy, with Brexit still undecided. Brighter news comes in the form of the significant progress made to the Apprenticeships Programme in Wales which is constantly adapting to meet demand. However, we recognise that the quality of the overall programme must continue to improve and evolve if we are to meet the current and future needs of individuals and employers.
Skills have been a key talking point in a series of recent reports, including the FSB’s ‘A Skilful Wales’, which calls for a skills system which anticipates future needs in collaboration with businesses. ‘The Future of Work in Wales’, published by the Public Policy Institute for Wales, considers the provision and uptake of skills. The report argues that there is still a need for lifelong learning because individuals in employment may not have the skills they need in five to 10 years’ time. It says the focus ought to be on ‘how individuals are supported to develop, maintain and improve their learning and skills throughout their working life’.
This strikes a chord with the Learning and Work Institute which is calling for everyone to have the same opportunities to learn and achieve during their lifetime, as demand changes, particularly in the digital economy.
Skills are integral to the success of the Welsh economy, but I accept that provision needs to be more proactive rather than reactive. To achieve this, I believe we need to work with Welsh Government to develop a strategic plan of future skills needs which includes calculating the cost of delivery, identifying if Wales has the necessary resources to deliver across the post 16 network and if not, being clear what capacity building will be needed to meet those future skills needs.
We need to pull together the solutions that are needed by the Welsh economy, but we must be able to work cross sector and across government departments to succeed.
We think it’s essential that skills remain in the portfolio of the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, AM, going forward. The cross-departmental working to achieve this proactive approach now sits in one Minister’s portfolio and therefore the opportunities for success are already increased. At the conference, I shall be calling for better joined up thinking across Welsh Government departments and more investment in the skills budget to ensure that the needs of the Welsh economy are met.
We need investment in the quality of the apprenticeships delivered. Calling for higher quality, more technical apprenticeships is all well and good, but they need to be affordable, not just for providers but also for the Welsh Government.
To sustain the 30,000 plus apprenticeship starts that we have achieved annually for the past two years, additional funds are needed. The focus going forward ought to be on quality rather than quantity, as that is going to be critical as we move towards a digital economy with the onset of automation and artificial intelligence.
We must analyse all the skills we have across the post 16 network and find smoother ways of working collaboratively with Further Education and Higher Education to meet skills needs and avoid duplication. I want the Welsh Government to facilitate and encourage more collaboration in the use of existing resources.
We do not yet know what the full impact of Brexit will be in Wales, but we need skills and employability programmes to be flexible enough to meet future demands caused by any economic disruption.
With the growth of apprenticeships provision since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, the demand by employers for work-based learning is clear. But a world class, sustainable apprenticeship system will only be achieved if it has the resources and infrastructure to allow providers to work with government to meet demand.