Memorandum submitted by Unite

 

This response is submitted by Unite the Union. Unite is the UK's largest trade union with 2 million members across the private and public sectors. The union's members work in a range of industries including financial services, manufacturing, print, media, construction, transport, local government, education, health and not for profit sectors.

 

 

Executive Summary

 

Unite is concerned that this absence of basic skills is denying some young people the opportunities that should be open to all young people and is also affecting industry and productivity;

 

Unite is clear that a structured programme of socialisation for work is required before young people leave school;

 

Unite believes that delivering strong workforce skills is the shared responsibility of government, employers, unions and individuals;

 

Government should make additional funding available during the present economic downturn to ensure an equipped workforce ready to face the upturn;

 

Unite believes that paying a decent Apprenticeship wage combined with quality training opportunities will provide the incentive necessary to generate take up and improve upon present completion rates;

 

Government should acknowledge that the building blocks of an education system are the key to a thriving, innovative and technologically advanced industrial economy.

 

Introduction

 

1. Unite welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee on this important issue.

 

2. Recent unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around one million young people aged 16-24 are presently unemployed out of a total unemployment figure of 2.46 million.[1] If action is not taken quickly to ensure that these young people play a productive role in society, then this could lead to a situation where those who are not in employment, education or training will become the next generation of long term unemployed.

 

3. This position may seem bleak however is supported by evidence published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which shows that those who faced unemployment in the last recession of the 1990's were more likely to have bouts of unemployment for a number of years after the recession had ended.[2] The ESRC report states that "after the early 1990s recession, there were severe longer-term consequences for many workers who lost their jobs. The experience of unemployment can damage people's chances of keeping a job once they find one."

 

4. The report also states that "in previous recessions, many young people who left school with few or no qualifications ended up shuttling between labour market programmes, inactivity and unemployment, accumulating long spells of stigmatising joblessness. "

 

5. It is a disappointing fact that rising unemployment may actually help the Government to meet targets in terms of increasing the number of young people staying on in education included in the Education and Skills Bill with research showing that enrolment rates in post-compulsory education rise when jobs are scarce.

 

6. The introduction of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act is therefore also well timed. This Act provides a statutory framework to ensure that young people can achieve their potential by providing the right for every suitably qualified 16-18 year old to take up an Apprenticeship. This is a very welcome step towards helping certain young people realise their potential.

 

7. However some young people leave school without basic NVQ Level 2 qualifications which means they do not have even basic literacy and numeracy skills. Unite is concerned that this absence of basic skills is denying some young people the opportunities that should be open to all young people and is also affecting industry and productivity.

 

8. The 2007 National Employer Skill Survey (NESS) also identified that 23% of employers report poorly prepared 16-18 year old school leavers who lack motivation, commitment and have a negative attitude towards work. [3]

 

9. Unite is clear that a structured programme of socialisation for work is required before young people leave school. This could include learn to work programmes in school or other types of initiatives that will enable young people to acquire the confidence and 'soft' skills needed to access work. There also needs to be a concerted approach to explaining to young people the economic and social rewards of entering further education and vocational training.

 

10. Unite believes that delivering strong workforce skills is the shared responsibility of government, employers, unions and individuals. It is clearly documented that trade unions have played a pivotal role in encouraging workers and employers to participate fully in the learning agenda. This role could be extended with the 'right to request training' to include on the job training and skills development for all workers. However as the right to request training is being phased in from April 2010 to employers employing 250 people and from April 2011 to all other employers this may not come soon enough.

 

11. Evidence shows that those employers who invest in their workforce emerge stronger from economic downturns. It is vital that employers play their part in ensuring young people contribute to the future success of the UK economy and the Government must aim to do more for this group of vulnerable young people who may fall through the skills net.

 

Funding

 

12. Unite is concerned about reports that the Government is planning radical cuts to public spending aimed in particular at the budget for skills including Train to Gain, Adult Apprenticeships and Skills for Life. [4] While it is reported that these cuts affect the 19+ age group, a 17 or 18 year old considering an Apprenticeship may find their funding affected given that the duration of most Apprenticeships lasts longer than one year.

 

13. Furthermore, evidence shows that the budget for training reduces during a recession and it is important therefore that rather than reduce budgets for training the Government should make additional funding available during the present economic downturn to ensure an equipped workforce ready to face the upturn. [5]

 

14. Unite notes that Skills for Life provision was criticised in a recent Ofsted report [6] as "needing improvement" due to the level of take up by employers. However Unite is clear that it would not wish to see a reduction in any budget which addresses the skills gap in basic skills; skills which are most in need by a significant number of young people in society.

 

Apprenticeships

 

15. The 2007 NESS shows that 14% of employers offered an Apprenticeship to their staff between 2006 and 2007, but only 8% actually had any staff undertaking an Apprenticeship at any point. There therefore remain concerns regarding the ability for young people to access an Apprenticeship.

 

16. In the past young people could enter an Apprenticeship with as little as two basic GCSE's. Now employers will only offer an Apprenticeship to very able candidates who show by their level of qualifications (4 - 5 GCSE's, grades A-C) that they are capable of undertaking the training required and also have the level of commitment employers now seek as a matter of course.

 

17. Trade unions are also well placed to contribute to the success of the Apprenticeship scheme through the encouragement provided to employees by work based Union Learning Representatives and to work with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to support workers through their training.

 

18. Trade unions can also play a role in promoting apprentices through their work with the Sector Skills Councils. A number of sectors have adopted a Trade Union Action Plan into their Sector Skills Agreements and have signed up to support joint working with employers on training and the promotion of the role of ULRs in workplace learning.[7]

 

19. The issue of Apprenticeship pay remains a barrier to both applying for and completing an Apprenticeship for some people and might in fact preclude those from lower income groups from considering an Apprenticeship programme at all.

 

20. Unite welcomes the increase in Apprenticeship pay from 80 per week to 95 a week in England, however supports the TUC proposals which establishes 3 new age based bands. The rates proposed by the TUC for apprentices currently exempted from the NMW are based on a discount of 10 to 15 per cent from the existing rates:-

- 3.00 to 3.18 for 16-17 year olds;

- 4.05 to 4.29 for 18-20 year olds (19 and 20, first year of apprenticeship only); and

- 4.87 to 5.15 for those aged 21 and above (first year of apprenticeship only).

21. Unite accepts that the increase will have a marginal benefit to those in traditionally less well paid sectors and more specifically women. However an Apprenticeship will still pay considerably less and therefore be a less attractive option than an equivalent job, say in hairdressing, that is paying the minimum wage.

 

22. Unite believes that paying a decent wage combined with quality training opportunities will provide the incentive necessary to generate take up and improve upon present completion rates which although improving, up 20% since 2004, still stood at 63% in 2007.[8] Unite therefore remains committed to the removal of the exemption of apprentices from the National Minimum Wage.

 

Education

 

23. Unite has also expressed serious concern with current education policy in the UK. There have been a number of policy changes in education over the past 5 years that have had a serious detrimental impact on the production of science, technology and engineering apprentices and graduates. There must be an acknowledgement by government that the building blocks of an education system are the key to a thriving, innovative and technologically advanced industrial economy.

 

24. International comparisons provide interesting examples. An example is Singapore, in the last Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) survey of maths and science standards in 49 countries, Singapore came first for science and second for maths. [9] Since the scheme known as Singapore Maths was introduced in the 1990's, the nation has not only moved to the top of the survey but no longer has a bottom stream of low achievers.

 

25. Although the UK has improved its standing from 25th place in 1995 to seventh place in 2008[10], there are still more than one-fifth of children who fail to pass the National Curriculum maths test. In 2008 only 78% of 11 year olds and 77% of 14 year olds reached the standard expected for their age.

 

26. It is clear from these figures that, although the UK has a respectable position in the international TIMSS chart, it is the countries that are our direct manufacturing competitors who are creating educational policy that will ensure the educational opportunities are available to produce the highest number of highly skilled mathematicians, technicians and scientists.

 

27. Government must take evidence such as this seriously and implement education policy that recognises that industry in the UK is not only about the service and finance sectors. It is crucial that research and development, innovation and intellectual property remain in the UK. This will only happen if there is enough home grown talent to fill the ever growing skills shortages in manufacturing and that workers will be sufficiently educated to address the onward march of technological change.

 

28. Unite would like to see government formulate education, skills and training policy that prioritises certain areas and addresses major current issues. These include:

 

improving basic standards of literacy and numeracy across all age groups in society;

increase the number of young people studying STEM subjects and achieving apprentice places in manufacturing and technology industries;

build stronger links between employers and educational establishments, schools, universities and further education colleges;

invest in improving vocational education and legitimise qualifications;

have a root and branch review of the current qualifications system.

 

If qualifications have no value for the student or the employer what use are they as a signifier of a highly educated and highly skilled workforce?

 

29. Unite does not wish to see the responsibility for the increasing number of NEETs lie solely at the door of employers. Nor indeed should the costs of turning them into suitable employees. It may well be that issues within the education system regarding motivation, commitment and a positive learning environment also need to be addressed to ensure that young people leave the education system with sufficient confidence and qualifications which will enable them to participate fully in the workforce of the future. It is therefore vital that issues are addressed which identify young people who are being failed by the system earlier rather than later in a young persons education.

 

December 2009



[1] ONS Employment Statistics September 2009

[2] Recession Britain: ESRC Report on the impact of recession on people's jobs, business and daily life 2009

[3] 2007 National Employer Skill Survey

[4] The Observer Sunday 8th November 2009

[5] Nurturing Talent (2008): Cranfield School of Management

[6] Ofsted (Nov 2009): The impact of Train to Gain on skills in employment

[7] See FSSC Sector Skills Agreement. www.fssc.org.uk

[8] http://www.lsc.gov.uk/providers/Data/statistics/sfr/

[9] TIMSS 2007 Distribution of Mathematics Achievement, page 34.

[10] Ibid, page 35.