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Adult Upskilling

Volume 728: debated on Monday 27 February 2023

We have a range of programmes designed for adults to upskill. Skills bootcamps are free flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, offering learners the opportunity to develop skills with the offer of a job interview, and we delivered 16,120 training places over the last year, 2021-22. Following the commitment of £550 million at the spending review in autumn 2021, we are making thousands more training places available.

Harrogate College in my constituency can, in certain circumstances, contribute towards childcare to help adults study, when that is a factor preventing them from upskilling. Will my right hon. Friend be reviewing what more can be done to remove any barriers that prevent adults from renewing and updating their skills?

My hon. Friend is a champion of Harrogate College, and I do not think he will have any problem with his college doing the things he has described, because it has been recognised as having an outstanding adult learning programme. It has been allocated more than £400,000 from the adult education budget this academic year to help the adults in the non-devolved areas, including Harrogate.

The advent of areas such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics means that the jobs of tomorrow could look very different from the jobs of today and require very different skillsets. In Lancashire, the new institute of technology that is being established will be key to that. It will bring together Burnley College and the University of Central Lancashire from my constituency, as well as providers and employers from all over the counties. For opportunity to be shared equally, however, we need to ensure that those already in work have the chance to develop and reskill for the future. Will my right hon. Friend confirm how the Government will ensure that IOTs benefit adult learners looking for opportunities to reskill?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight institutes of technology; we are investing £300 million in 21 around the country, which is an example of the Government’s investment in skills. He will know that the Lancashire and Cumbria IOT is a collaboration between further education colleges, universities and employers driving an employer-led curriculum to meet local skills needs in science, technology, engineering and maths. IOTs are involved in the regeneration of areas such as Blackpool and are expected to commence delivery from September.

All hon. Members agree that the skills agenda is vital for the future of the economy, but the loss of the European social fund has been devastating for skills providers. Surely the Minister agrees that the UK Exchequer should match the ESF money lost across all four home nations.

These matters are, of course, for the Treasury, but I am proud that the Government are investing £3.8 billion extra in skills over this Parliament, as well as £2.7 billion in apprenticeships.

Polling has found that 46.4% of workers said that they would learn a new skill if it were free for them to do so, but colleges and educational institutions do not have the funding to put on the courses required. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Business and Trade about the economic benefit of upskilling the workforce? What plans do the Government have to do that?

We are upskilling the workforce all the time—that is behind the Government’s approach. We are investing in resources, as I mentioned, and £3.8 billion extra is being spent on skills during this Parliament. We are investing in recruitment, FE resources and bursaries for FE college tutors in key subjects, such as STEM. Everything that the Government are doing—investing in quality qualifications and resources, and working with business—is to ensure that our country has the skills that we need.

YouGov polling published today shows that 40% of workers want to learn a new skill to get a better job, and almost as many want to see more investment in skills. The Conservatives have had 13 years to deliver, yet almost 4 million fewer adults are taking part in training now than in 2010 and part-time study has plummeted by 50%. Given their pitiful record on this important agenda, is it not finally time for a Labour Government to take the reins?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question; he is a thoughtful shadow spokesman. As I have already highlighted, we have a proud record on skills in this country. We have had more than 5 million apprenticeship starts since 2010 and we are developing high-level, prestigious vocational qualifications in the T-levels and higher technical qualifications. We are offering free level 3 courses to thousands of people, as well as the bootcamps that I mentioned earlier. Whichever way we look, the Government are giving young people and adults a skills ladder of opportunity, at the top of which is job security and prosperity. That is possibly why—