Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
28 APRIL 2008
Q20 Ian Stewart: But how will your
targets assist in that?
Lord Leitch: Targets do not necessarily
assist but they can help you, for example, in terms of the output.
The output might be in getting a job, so I think they would help
in those areas. One of the key areas here would be one of the
Sector Skills Councils in developing for a particular sector the
skills that they need, but there are other skills. If you look
at NEETs, how many NEETs have we got today? 200,000? There is
this big potential underclass that I worry about of some of those
softer skills, concerning getting up in the morning, having the
discipline to go and work, the discipline to go for an interview,
and we have to do something centrally for those sorts of areas.
So it is a combination of, for instance, Sector Skills Councils
and something nationally to deliver those sorts of areas. You
need them both.
Q21 Ian Stewart: We have developed
some non traditional approaches, bite-sized learning or other
less traditional routes. Do you think that the targets based on
qualifications may discourage the development and use of those
non traditional approaches?
Lord Leitch: What sort of things
do you mean by "non traditional"?
Q22 Ian Stewart: Well, the bite-sized
learning approach, which is outside the qualifications scheme
Lord Leitch: No, I do not. I think
employers having more of a role, more of a voice in developing
skills which are economically valuable makes that more flexible.
You are giving more power to the employers, the Sector Skills
Councils, to develop those sorts of skills that are absolutely
right with more flexibility, more focus and more measurement in
those sorts of skills, and I think we have that.
Q23 Ian Stewart: Sandy, in the past
you have been pressed on ELQs, but before we ease into that, does
the setting of targets for the proportion of the population at
particular levels of skills attainment have a detrimental effect
on those who wish to re-skill rather than up-skill, and what is
there in your report to assist those who need to re-skill?
Lord Leitch: Setting of targets
is a vexed question. A lot of people have asked me whether target
setting makes any difference; I think you have to have targets.
A business has to know where it is heading, and to do that you
need to start with what you are aiming to do, so I think targets
are important. But we set off starting by saying you have to have
a vision, and the vision has to be world class in skills by 2020,
and we mean by that to upper quartile in the OECD. Then you have
to translate that into what does that mean, and you have to have
objectives, and we have very clear objectives in terms of basic
skills, intermediate skills and higher level skills, and there
are numbers in there, and I think you have to have those to help
you achieve your vision. Then you have the specific recommendations,
which drive you to achieve those objectives. So I think that is
a very logical, very pragmatic way of running targets, but "targets"
as a word has fallen into a bit of disrepute, I think, and I think
that is exactly the way to run it.
Q24 Ian Stewart: When you say that
there is a presumption that a person will train and gain new skills
to achieve a particular job, and that will help drive innovation,
what about those people who because of the nature of industry
these days have to change their existing skills for new skills?
They also make a contribution, do they not?
Lord Leitch: Yes. Absolutely.
Q25 Ian Stewart: So at that point
the question is if, as government policy, we are running for a
flexible labour market in the type of world that you have described,
why do you think a government would not wish to support people
studying ELQs to retrain or train for new skills?
Lord Leitch: The Government does
want to support those. In our report we talk about 70% of the
working age population by 2020 already having left compulsory
education, so to have people with the skills you need you cannot
rely on a flow of young people coming through, and the flow of
young people is going to reduce by 2020, so a key part of this
is retraining the work force. A critical focus, for example, of
Sector Skills Councils will be on retraining, changing people's
skills, improving their skills, driving that forward. I do not
want to come on to ELQ yet but it is a main thrust of what we
are saying and what is in the report. On graduate numbers, our
objective is to exceed 40% by 2020and when I say "exceed"
40% will not be enough in 2020, and it is not just level 4 but
it is level 5 and above, so we have to drive all this forward
by that time, and the only way we can do that is by focusing on
the stock of people in work, and that is the strong message from
Mr Marsden: The balance between re-skilling
and up-skilling was one of the issues swirling around the ELQ
debate, and we would like to press you a little on this.
Q26 Mr Wilson: How does cutting £100
million from the ELQ budget help re-skilling?
Lord Leitch: My job in this review
was to do this extensive comprehensive analysis and then make
the recommendations. I never thought I would continue to oversee
the implementation. Indeed, my review was not an implementation
blueprint; it did not cover everything, and if we had it would
have been a lot bigger and much longer. So we did not cover every
single aspect of the skills agendas. Indeed, I always said it
was my job to deliver the recommendations; it is then the Government's
job with the Commission for Employment and Skills to oversee the
success of that journey. I know there has been a lot of talk about
ELQs, and we recommend 40% and above at 2020 and increasing the
flow of young people, but that is not enough; we have to up-skill
the stock. There are six million people at level 3 in this country,
and they are potentially the candidates to move to the next level.
That next level might not be a qualification but it could be a
graduate level skill that we are looking at so it is important
to get to that, and that is going to be a real focus for Sector
Skills Councils. But I cannot really comment on the detailed arguments
because I do not know the arguments.
The Committee suspended from 4.55 pm to 5.05
pm for a division in the House.
Q27 Mr Wilson: Your answer
was pretty noncommittal
Lord Leitch: I had not finished!
Q28 Mr Marsden: Could I say at the
risk of irritation that it would be helpful if the answers could
be a little briefer.
Lord Leitch: Fine. We did not
specifically cover ELQs, though I think the principle is we do
have to prioritise, but we need to watch out for unintended consequences.
Q29 Mr Wilson: The automatic reaction
to that is do you feel that what has happened to ELQs may have
some unintended consequences?
Lord Leitch: I do not know enough
of the detail, genuinely.
Q30 Mr Wilson: Because you have said
that any changes in funding streams and mechanisms must be effectively
managed so that the excellent work of institutions such as Open
University is not undermined. You are probably aware that Professor
Latchford from Birkbeck College and the Open University are very
exercised about the impact these cuts are going to have on part-time
students and, in particular, women returners to the work force.
Surely you can see there is going to be a huge impact on these
people as a result of these cuts?
Lord Leitch: What I have not done
in the last 18 months is get involved in detailed implementation.
I do not think that is right, that is a job for the Government.
It has to prioritise, it has to make tough decisions, and so genuinely
I have not been involved in that. Open University and Birkbeck
have written to me to ask for my views and I have not given them
one; I do not think it is right. If you are going to give a proper,
educated view you have to look into the whole topic and what was
said and done, and I have not done that.
Mr Wilson: In that case I will step back,
if we cannot get a view from you.
Q31 Dr Blackman-Woods: Lord Leitch,
I think a lot of the analysis in your report on future skills
needs is very helpful, but can you tell us how robust you think
the modelling is, and what your analysis of the current and future
skills picture is based on?
Lord Leitch: I am very confident
on the analysis because that is looking at what was on now and
I think we had some of the best brainsHarvard University
and Sheffield Universityhelping us, and people from the
Treasury and DWP. Modelling, of course, is the future and you
need assumptions for that, but I think I am confident enough of
the models we have made to justify the recommendations. We have
tapped into the best brains here and it is sound. In terms of
the modelling where I am confident is working back from the ambition
to be upper quartile. These are the things you need to do so I
am very confident on that. And, by the way, the Commission for
Employment and Skills is currently independently looking at our
models to verify those.
Q32 Dr Blackman-Woods: So it might
be helpful for us to come back at some stage in the future and
look at those again, is that what you are suggesting?
Lord Leitch: I think it is always
worth revisiting. Basically, I did a study and I thought it was
very important to have an assessment and continuously to review
and keep this in the front of my mind, and that is what the Commission
will be doing. So yes, you should be constantly looking at it,
looking at competition in the world, seeing where we have to make
adjustments and seeing if our progress is good enough.
Q33 Dr Blackman-Woods: Nevertheless
your report does say it is very difficult to model for 15 years
in the future, so would your conclusion be that it is worth modelling
for 15 years in the future, or is it only worth doing that in
a very general way?
Lord Leitch: I said one of the
principles was to adapt and respond. When I first started this
study I thought we could take a skill type, model it through to
the future and say: This is how many of this you need by the year
2020. I soon realised that history tells you you always get that
wrong, so you have to build a system that adapts and responds
to what employers need, what society needs, and to drive forward
those demand-led, adapt-and-respond fundamental issues for the
Q34 Dr Blackman-Woods: I have heard
a number of people comment in relation to your report that what
you did was suggest that in the future there would be very little
demand for low-skilled employment in the United Kingdom. The figure
that is usually used is about 600,000 being needed, down from
about 3.6 million today. Could you say whether you think that
is a fair conclusion to make from your report, or whether you
were just simply outlining for the future what skills qualifications
would be, rather than what they should be?
Lord Leitch: There will be less
low-skilled jobs in the future. That is the statement from that.
Q35 Dr Blackman-Woods: And do you
think it is fair? Because I have heard a number of ministers saying
that based on your report it is likely that the demand for those
with low-skilled occupations will be much, much lower for the
future than at the moment?
Lord Leitch: I think that is right,
and the consequence from that that we should give those people
who do not have these basic skills a chance to acquire them, and
that is a fundamental point, a social point and an economic one.
Q36 Dr Blackman-Woods: We have already
discussed targets and whether they are useful or not. However,
we would all accept that the targets set in your report and subsequently
added to by Government are quite challenging. Do you think they
are realistic, given that we are 12 years away now from 2020?
Are they going to be met?
Lord Leitch: I earnestly hope
they are going to be met. I think they are realistic because,
remember, there are countries in the world who are Quartile 1
in skills and we are not, so these are attainable, achievable.
I think we have to achieve them. There are competitive countries
out there. I think for the fifth largest nation in the world where
we are is unacceptable. Some countries have made fantastic progresscountries
like South Korea, Australia, Franceand some countries are
catching up like Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and I think the consequences
of not delivering are severesevere at different sections
of the work force but also for the economy and for individual
groupings. So the targets are realistic but they need a lot of
commitment and action to deliver them.
Q37 Dr Blackman-Woods: And do you
think we would be helped in terms of delivering the targets if
a greater role was taken by regions, or even at a sub regional
level? Do you think RDAs, for example, have a strong enough role
in terms of delivering?
Lord Leitch: I think there is
a balance between RDAs and cities, as I mentioned earlier. To
be absolutely clear, there is national, sectoral and local. For
example, with RDA, if you are in Cornwall, you would not have
many city structures there because it is not big enough, but if
you are in Sheffieldand what they are doing in Sheffield
is incredibly impressiveyou could argue you did not need
to do much more to bring employment and skills together. So there
is a jigsaw here, and I would say I would be flexible on the local
delivery of the jigsaw.
Q38 Dr Blackman-Woods: But should
RDAs have a clear role in setting targets for their region, and
doing sector-specific targets?
Lord Leitch: To be honest, I am
not sure what the sub-national review said. I have not followed
that. Do you know?
Q39 Dr Blackman-Woods: Yes. It gave
a role to poor local authorities.
Lord Leitch: But not regionals?