Employability & Skills: Five starter points on how to build a more inclusive society

This week Learning and Work Cymru will host the annual Employability and Skills Convention. It’s fair to say it is good timing.  We’ll hear from Remploy about the start of Work and Health Programme Wales and from the Welsh Government on the soon to be launched Working Wales employability programme.  There’ll be reflections and discussions from across the sector on in-work progression, co-location of services, apprenticeships, careers advice for adults, and examples of what’s working across Wales.

It will also be a chance for many in the room to hear for the first time from Eluned Morgan AM, the newly appointed Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning.  This is the fifth time that I will have had the opportunity to work with Eluned (albeit in very different roles) and I know she’ll bring energy, drive, ideas and strategic thinking to the job.  She won’t accept the status quo simply because change is difficult and she’ll be brave enough to give innovation the chance to succeed.  And she’ll want to see the evidence to support arguments for both change and the status quo.

Ahead of #ESCymru17, here is our starter on what should be on her to-do list:

  1. Build a culture of lifelong learning: our education system needs to better reflect the challenge of an ageing society and the rapidly changing nature of work.  In short, we are all working longer and will need to re-skill for multiple careers.  The reality though is that we have seen a significant drop in part-time, flexible learning opportunities and a consequent loss of learning and progression routes for adults.  Addressing this decline and ensuring there are genuine opportunities for lifelong learning should be a priority.
  2. Careers advice for the key transition points in life: access to high-quality advice and guidance (and the subsequent access to skills) is essential at key transition points in people’s lives, whether that is returning to work after a career break, looking to progress in work or to plan effectively for retirement.  Our focus today is too narrowly on advice and guidance at school age (important though this is). In the face of the challenge of an ageing society and the changing world of work, we need access to information, advice and guidance throughout our working lives.  This should be at the heart of the vision for a new careers service.
  3. Ambition and learning (for all): rightly, the Minister has already said she is ambitious for all learners.  Nowhere is this needed more than for looked after children / care leavers.  Even after nearly two decades of action since devolution 43% of all young care leavers are not in education, employment and training and there are far too few Sam Gardner’s in Wales with the chance of going to University.  Rapid progress is needed to transform the opportunities we give to care leavers, carers, disabled people, and adults returning to education for a second chance.
  4. Support for both employment and progression: top of the in-tray will be Working Wales, the long awaited new approach to employability support.  Alongside looking at how we can better support people into work we need as well to do more to support in-work progression.  The recent report from the Welsh Centre for Public Policy at Cardiff University on the future of work highlights the urgency of this challenge.  Wales could become a leading light of innovation by working with individual sectors and across regional economies to look at what will work and how we can provide support for people and businesses to progress.  Better Jobs, Better Futures at Gower College Swansea is a model worth considering.
  5. Scale up success: we are keen to look elsewhere for innovation but we also be prepared to look to our own backyard.  Our first suggestion would be to look at the excellent work of Monkton Priory Primary School in Pembroke.  If Eluned hasn’t been there yet then she should.  It is a real success story, both for the adults in the community and for the children in the school.  Most importantly this is a programme which could be replicated elsewhere in Wales with the right leadership (local and national) and with the right prioritisation of resources.

Eluned has a pretty big in-tray.  The challenges are huge but so too is the prize of a more inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity of decent, well-paid work and the chance to fulfil their potential.  Good luck!