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New law aims for a better skilled workforce

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A new law came into force this week that will help address skills shortages in the UK workforce, aiming to provide businesses with better-trained young employees.   

The Education and Skills Act means that all young people will stay in education or training until the age of 17 from 2013, and 18 from 2015.  Developed in consultation with business leaders, including representatives from the Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce, it responds to employer demands for a higher skilled workforce and aims to help the UK meet the ambitions set out in the Leitch Review.  

The Leitch Review highlighted the great importance of improving workers’ skills in the UK if businesses are to remain competitive internationally.  In the future, there will be fewer jobs for people who haven’t participated in education or training.  The number of unskilled workers in employment is predicted to shrink from 3.2m in 2004 to 600,000 in 2020, meaning that young people without qualifications are going to find it increasingly difficult to gain and keep employment.  

A package of reforms to education is being implemented to complement the Act, including the expansion of the Apprenticeships programme, the introduction of the Diploma and revamped GCSEs and A levels. Throughout their learning young people, will be taught the core skills that employers value: functional skills in English, maths and ICT and personal, learning and thinking skills. These changes aim to give all young people a learning option that motivates them and provide employers with work-ready young people with the skills to benefit the UK economy.

Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said: “In a rapidly changing labour market and these tough economic conditions, a job for life is a thing of the past. Young people without qualifications are going to find it increasingly difficult to gain employment. We must have an evolving education system that reflects the requirements of employers and the fast pace of change in business. No young person should be left behind.   

“We do not expect every 16 and 17 year old to remain in the classroom – they will still be able to work, as long as they are learning too. This system is about creating real options for students so there is something for everyone.”

Commenting on the Royal Assent of the Education and Skills Act, David Frost, Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “Raising the compulsory age of participation in the education system will help to ensure that Britain has a suitably well-qualified workforce in the future. This must be coupled with an increased provision of Diplomas and Apprenticeships alongside existing qualifications to give all young people a learning route that will help them develop and achieve their goals.”

Clive Jones CBE, chair of GMTV and a member of the Diploma Employer Champions Network, said: “We as a nation must do much better in encouraging young people to stay on at 16 if we are to maintain our competitiveness. Raising the participation age raises the bar on our national expectations, while the 14-19 reforms offer three attractive routes to young learners, including the exciting new work-related Diplomas.”

The Act involves a set of light-touch duties on employers who hire 16-17 year olds for more than 20 hours a week, including a requirement to check that young people are in learning before they begin employment.  If a business is employing 16-17 year olds and is not providing accredited training, it will need to agree reasonable working hours so the young person can access training elsewhere.  There is no ongoing duty for employers to check that young people working for them are attending learning.  

Businesses are encouraged to offer Apprenticeships or other accredited training, so the training undertaken by young people meets business demands as well as the young person’s needs.






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