UK will fall behind unless high skills provision transformed

UK will fall behind unless high skills provision transformed

The UK will fail to close its chronic skills gaps without urgent action to boost advanced ‘learn as you earn’ training and more business-designed degrees, a new CBI report has found.

Tomorrow’s Growth argues that relying alone on traditional university courses will not meet the growing demand for degree-level, technical skills in key sectors like manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.

It says that government needs to remove a series of barriers to better co-operation between higher education and industry. And it urges ministers to address the 40% drop in part-time undergraduate applicants since 2010-11.

The CBI warns businesses need to tackle the perception that A-levels followed by a three-year residential course is the only route to a good career, with higher tuition fees meaning young people are getting more astute in deciding what to study from 18.

The UK’s biggest business group says there are not enough courses with business links; patchy understanding of student finance; and poor careers advice on options open to young people – arguing a new vocational UCAS-style system could bridge the gap.

It says universities need to boost the number of employer-backed “sandwich” courses and compressed or part-time degrees, which give students practical work experience or allow them to support their studies.

And it says businesses need to expand their commitment to high-quality training schemes – such as higher & advanced apprenticeships; work-based training; and fast-track schemes aimed at school leavers - alongside traditional degrees.

Katja Hall, CBI Policy Director, said: “The UK needs to vastly increase the stock of workers with higher-level skills to drive long-term growth and stop us falling behind our competitors.

“We need to tackle the perception that the A-levels and three year-degree model is the only route to a good career.

“When faced with £27,000 debt, young people are already becoming much savvier in shopping around for routes to give them the competitive edge in a tighter job market.

“Universities must be much more innovative to take advantage of the change in students’ approach. And we need businesses to roll up their sleeves and expand high-quality alternative routes where degrees are not the best option for young people.”

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George Bailey