30 November 2020

COVID has highlighted the urgent need for a rethink about the way digital skills are taught, the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Gillian Keegan said today.

Speaking at the start the week-long BCS Virtual Festival of Digital Skills, the minister said: “We recognised that technical education was going to be the rocket fuel we needed to propel our economy, even before COVID-19.

“We need to open up, celebrate and champion technical education.... and we know that there is as much value in studying computer science as there is in studying classics.”

She told the conference, organised by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT: “This pandemic has accelerated the need for our technical education system to create a pipeline of skilled productive workers who can support the future needs of the economy.”

The minister outlined the role of the recently introduced Digital T-Levels – a qualification where students spend 80% of their time in the classroom and 20% on a work placement. Plus, she introduced the newly established Institutes of Technology which are a collaboration between colleges, universities and employers in key sectors such as digital, advanced manufacturing, construction and engineering.

The minister began her career as an apprentice, and she paid tribute to the skills she gained through this route. However, she was very aware of the low business confidence, brought on by the pandemic and stressed: "That is why we are providing more funding to smaller enterprises taking apprentices on and providing more flexibility in how they structure their training.”

For those who don’t have an A Level or equivalent qualification, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee would, the minister said, give them access to a fully funded Level 3 qualification through the new National Skills Fund, no matter what their age.

For career changers she promised a transformation of the funding system so that people can get a loan just as easily for a higher technical course as they can for a university degree, and this would mean that further education colleges had access to funding on the same terms as universities.

Further details are to be announced with a White Paper which the minister said would explain more about the plan to make sure people across the country acquire the high-quality skills needed by employers.

Overall, Gillian Keegan MP said she was confident that the UK could build back better from the pandemic, based on how businesses, universities, and colleges were responding to the crisis. In conclusion, she said: “We have to disrupt the way we think about technical education, we need to disrupt how we deliver this education, and we must do this urgently.”

The virtual conference, created by the professional body for IT, continues all week, bringing together politicians, experts and thought leaders across the digital skills agenda.

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