After speaking to Professor Josie Fraser of the Open University about the importance of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) in the Government's Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Jane Hickie argues that the Bill currently lacks ambition, and that it needs broadening in order to ensure a sustainable post-pandemic recovery led by skills and training. 

Training rarely enjoys a high profile in the national media unless employers start complaining about skills shortages or a large number of unfilled job vacancies. It has been different recently because the effects of the pandemic and the number of EU workers going home have combined to generate headline stories about the shortage of lorry drivers, carers and hospitality staff.

The day after the EU referendum in 2016, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said, "The referendum result means that a skilled British workforce will be needed more than ever. All sectors, especially examples such as construction, hospitality and care, are and will be heavily dependent on having good quality training in place". Five years on and in response to the current labour shortages, the Government is briefing that employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.

The Government may have a point but public investment in apprenticeships, traineeships, adult skills programmes and technical education remains a vital ingredient to make the economic recovery sustainable after the pandemic. This autumn's Spending Review will offer answers on the scale of investment available following the measures implemented in July 2020's Plan for Jobs but in the meantime, ministers are hoping that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will also make a difference. After it completes its passage in the Lords, the Bill will be considered by MPs in the autumn and AELP will brief that further education and skills training should secure sustainable employment for individuals and improvements in workforce productivity while retaining a drive towards improving social mobility or 'levelling up'. In this context, some of the principles in January's Skills for Jobs white paper were in our view correct, but the Bill itself lacks ambition. If the new legislation is to make a real impact, the Bill needs to achieve:

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First, it needs to bring back Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs).The Commons Education Committee has rightly called for ILAs to be restored to increase participation in adult skills programmes. They would make a fundamental difference in adding some substance to the Prime Minister's promise of a lifetime learning guarantee in the form of a first level 3 qualification for adults without one.

Second, it needs to keep the levy for apprenticeships only. The apprenticeship levy was being overspent before the pandemic and so ministers should resist siren voices and any Bill amendments for it to be used for other forms of training.

Third, the Bill needs to include Lord Baker's efforts to enforce impartial careers guidance in schools. Lord Baker is seeking to strengthen his own 'Baker Clause' in the Skills Bill on the issue of many schools not offering impartial advice on post-16 vocational and technical education options and his amendment should be supported.

Independent training providers deliver the majority of apprenticeships but the Bill seeks to reduce their role by imposing unnecessary bureaucratic costs and limiting their influence in the proposed local skills improvement plans. Right now, this is hardly a recipe for supporting a skills-led recovery.

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