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by GK Strategy 13th July, 2017

The Taylor Review and its missed educational opportunity

Those in flexible work and seeking a better job are likely to be underwhelmed by the thin education content of Matthew Taylor’s review. Put bluntly, while other sections of the Taylor Review managed up to three strong formal recommendations to Government, the 10 page portion on ‘scope for development’ risks being ignored because of its vague recommendations about providing learning opportunities for those already in flexible work.

Traditional debates about skills policy focus on the lack of skilled young people leaving school or the future workforce simply failing to match up with the expectations of employers.

But skills cover more than just the pillars of literacy, numeracy and the ability to work with others; in tandem with these are the grasp of practical skills for the changing workplace. The level of technical education in schools in areas such as ICT, so in demand by modern employers, is improving and so the next generation of school leavers is likely to be better placed to meet employers’ expectations moving forward.

Two thirds of the UK’s workforce in 2030 have already left full-time education, meaning those already working outside the traditional employer/employee model could be caught in a situation where they experience insecurity and low pay at work, whilst being unable to train and develop the skills needed to move into higher skilled employment.

More pointedly, the Review’s own research highlights that of the UK’s 1.1 million gig economy workers, 28% are employed in accountancy, legal advice and consultancy work. Without being presumptuous, it’s likely that these workers command high salaries in the gig economy and could probably take time off to retrain if they needed to; they are unlikely to be ‘trapped’.

The review could and should have been making bold recommendations about tackling the problems of those in gig economy work where prospects for development are limited, in areas such as delivery or care. The Review Panel should have come up with stronger ideas about how to get these workers into better paid roles; there is too much focus on helping those who are established in the workforce.

In nine months, the RSA Chief Executive has managed only to recommend a more ‘positive’ interaction between government and employers and the ability for platform workers to transfer their five star ‘approval’ ratings from one gig economy provider to another. Probably the strongest recommendation is an exploration of a new approach to learning accounts for further education loans.

This is a fairly meagre offering to a young person making a living delivering food or in the care sector.

There are no concrete ideas to explore how learning accounts could work and the Review makes sensible points without ever proposing decisive concepts. Once again it will require consultations to develop these ideas and the wait for ‘an army of skilled young people’ will continue.

Taylor has also jumped on the exciting developments around T-Levels. But this is not a good enough answer to the skills shortage if self-employment continues to increase. In high demand areas such as ICT, lifelong learning is essential to keep up to date with changing technology. T-levels are a good place for young people to build a skills base, but will not last the length of a career, nor will they be useful when a young person has left fulltime education and is doing casual shifts to earn a living.

The call for the apprenticeship levy to offer flexible training and modules is also a sensible one, but it doesn’t give specifics – the report simply recommends that the Government ask the Institute for Apprenticeships to make sure they are making best use of the apprenticeship framework for atypical workers. In reality however, individuals in low skilled work are unlikely to find buy in from their ‘gig’ economy employers to help them develop skills for use in other sectors; and these firms are unlikely to need ever more skilled workers.

Until workers in the ‘gig economy’ are seen as more than self-employed people with responsibility for themselves, the firms concerned are unlikely to take a ‘paternal’ approach to upskilling their workforce.

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