Page last updated at 17:40 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

1.7m asked to improve work skills

By Gary Eason
BBC News education correspondent

More young people are currently out of work

Three quarters of England's population should go to university or do an advanced apprenticeship by the age of 30, the government says.

It means another 1.7 million being qualified to the equivalent of A-level.

Learners will have more choice, ministers say, but funding will focus on having better qualified technicians.

The ambition is part of a new strategy that will also see the scrapping of some 30 public bodies currently delivering skills policy.

The new aims were outlined by Skills Secretary Lord Mandelson - as the latest unemployment figures showed the number of young people out of work had increased by 15,000.

There's a strong feeling ... almost that apprenticeships were somehow old-fashioned - well they are not
Skills Secretary Lord Mandelson

Of the 8.2 million people aged 19 to 30, 55% currently have Level 3 qualifications (equivalent to A-levels) or above.

To get to 75% the government says it needs another 1.679 million to improve their skills.

Presenting a White Paper, Skills for Growth - the National Skills Strategy, Lord Mandelson said the most important aim was building a new technician class through advanced apprenticeships.

'Apprenticeships are back'

There would be 35,000 more opportunities over the next two years and support for university technical colleges - backed by a thousand bursaries of up to £1,000 for each learner - to ensure progression into higher education.

create a new technician class through advanced apprenticeships
personal skills accounts worth up to £5,000, with treble the number of learning providers
sharply reduce the number of skills quangos
challenge business to invest more in training
put pressure on colleges to offer courses leading to jobs

Schools and colleges needed to make "a strong vocational offer" that meshed with higher education to take people on to foundation degrees and beyond.

"This is essential for our economic recovery," he said - and would make the country less reliant on migrant labour.

The admissions service Ucas is drawing up tariff points for a range of technical qualifications.

At present some 43% of under-30s in England participate in higher education. The government's much-derided target is for 50% to do so by next year - the definition being loosely drawn to include any first course lasting at least six months.

Lord Mandelson challenged businesses to invest more in training - but said wherever he went around the country, firms were glad the government had brought back apprenticeships.

"There's a strong feeling that they were withering," he said.

"That government's commitment was somewhat half-hearted, almost that apprenticeships were somehow old-fashioned.

"Well they are not: they are back."

'Bearing the brunt'

Colleges that back the strategy will get extra money - and those that do not will have their funding cut.

The chief executive of the Association of Colleges, Martin Doel, said: "We welcome the broad direction of travel in this strategy document in a number of areas, particularly the importance it attaches to high-level vocational education and training as an essential element in a vibrant and successful economy."

In the Commons, Conservative spokesman David Willetts said he welcomed many of the proposals, particularly on apprenticeships and Ucas points, which he said had been Tory ideas in the first place.

Liberal Democrat Steven Williams welcomed the rationalisation of the skills quangos but said young people were "bearing the brunt" of the recession.

"We need emergency measures to deal with the recession as well as a long-term vision for the future of our economy," he said.


Among the bodies to be axed include the nine regional Learning and Skills Councils and the Regional Skills Partnerships.

The various sector skills councils will be pruned "sharply".

Advanced Apprenticeships last for at least two years and lead to a National Vocational Qualification at Level 3, relevant key skills qualifications and a technical certificate.

Provisional data show that in the last academic year 79,000 people began them, compared with 73,000 the year before and 57,000 in 2006-07.

More choice for learners includes a promise by the government to treble the number of institutions where they can spend Skills Account entitlements.

These involve a personalised online service of advice on skills and careers, eligibility for training money and information about local courses. They are being made available throughout England by 2010.

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