The Leitch Legacy – five years on
Five years ago this month, against a backdrop of world-leading employment rates and fourteen years of uninterrupted growth in the UK, Lord Sandy Leitch produced his comprehensive skills review.
The report, “Prosperity for all in the Global Economy” argued that it was the UK’s skills base that would determine our strength as a competitor on the world stage and our economic growth prospects. Stressing the need for the UK to raise its game when it came to skills, the warning was clear - if we failed to skill-up we would “condemn ourselves to a lingering decline in competitiveness, diminishing economic growth and a bleaker future for all”.
A bleaker future came a lot sooner than most could have anticipated. Here in this uncertain economic climate with the cinders of the recession persisting threateningly, youth unemployment over 1m and markets nervous over a seemingly unravelling Europe, Leitch’s messages on skills are, if anything, even more relevant and more pertinent that they were at their inception. The backdrop has changed substantially and certainly our sector remains fragile but Leitch’s observation that a skilled workforce is critical to increased productivity and essential for growth holds true in recessionary times or otherwise.
What progress has been made?
The value of a skilled workforce has long been recognised by the UK’s construction employers – ability and talent is critical in a competitive market. It was no surprise that the industry was one of the top three sectors to sign up to the 2007 Skills Pledge that came about because of the Leitch report.
Acknowledgement and willingness to train and invest in skills is there and has been for some time, but there have also been many developments in the last five years that demonstrate that we are heeding Leitch’s messages and embracing the recommendations irrespective of climate.
A glimpse at the headline recommendations show that despite the recession, the Leitch legacy is in fairly robust shape. A healthy number of the main calls have either been implemented or are still in the pipeline: these include the introduction of the compulsory age of training up to 18, the increased emphasis on apprentices, the Skills Pledge and the imminent universal adult careers service. However, Train to Gain has been removed by the coalition and there’s a growing concern that the new Government may have been a little hasty in withdrawing its support for the 14-19 Diplomas which were set up in 2007 on the back of the Leitch recommendations and the established Young Apprenticeship programme that was seeing success in the construction sector.
Other recommendations have been steady progress on this over the past five years for example the need for skills to be ‘demand led’. We have been closely working with industry on various ‘demand led’ initiatives to ensure that the right skills are being put in place to match demand when and where it’s most needed. We use our Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) supplied by the Construction Skills Network as a forecasting tool to map out future demand regionally. This is shared widely with industry and gives employers the opportunity to take stock of their offering against future demand and review their skills base to decide if their business needs to adapt accordingly. Do they need to upskill, reskill, or hire new employees to meet demand?
The research is also used extensively in our work on the ground with FE Colleges, schools and local government to ensure that this intelligence is reflected in curriculums to avoid dead ends for entrants and prevent skills shortages for employers. We will continue to work closely with the employers and Local Enterprise Partnerships to make sure that our intelligence is being used effectively to get the right skills in place for economic growth regionally and nationally.
Apart from forecasting, the shift to demand led skills is being put into practice in the National Skills Academy for Construction projects, in which construction training at all levels takes place on the site of the project, rather than being delivered off-site in a pre-established training course. Unlike traditional training models here skills are being developed and used to serve the immediate needs of the project there and then.
Another of Leitch’s proposals that has been making steady progress in the industry in recent years is the increase in employer participation in shaping the skills agenda. Construction employers have been getting more involved on this front. As well as directly supporting skills and training via apprenticeship and scholarships programmes such as the Inspire graduate programme, employers are helping to shape training and curriculums from the onset and increasingly communicating their skills needs on the ground. This was borne out by the recent turnout at our consultation on the Construction Qualification Strategy which reviews construction courses and qualifications to see if they meet employers’ skills needs. Unfortunately, recent policy changes means that Sector Skills Councils are no longer positioned to approve all Vocational Qualifications into the public qualifications framework so employers are having less influence over determining what qualifications are developed and funded.
A final example of positive developments lies is on the proposal to integrate public employment and skills services. We recently launched the ‘client-led approach’ which involves working closely with local councils to look for possible employment and training opportunities for all major developments, based on each project’s size and value. This programme is going to help develop sustainable local skills base and encourage new blood into the industry.
What’s clear is that the skills agenda is still firmly on the table, employers continue to embrace the values and recommendations of the report even in these very different times. On the whole it looks like the Leitch legacy is in very good shape.
Nick Gooderson is the Head of Education, Training and Qualifications at CITB-ConstructionSkills