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Halfon must ensure that business is fully engaged in the skills agenda


eeling from the result of the EU referendum, my last leader column was fi lled

with angst around the frustrations of democracy, and I’m afraid politics is again going to dominate this editorial. T e weeks since the Brexit vote

have seen political change at speeds unheard of outside the pages of Marvel comics, with characters who would fi t quite comfortably into the storyboards of comic-strip ebbing and fl owing in the choppy tides of Westminster. Nick Boles’ resignation from

BIS shortly before the department’s demise saw the skills agenda move to the new, enlarged Department for Education under the stewardship of Justine Greening. My heart sank when I heard about Boles’ resignation because, during my interview with him at the beginning of the year, he was very optimistic about the skills agenda, in particular the new apprenticeship frameworks, the introduction of the levy and functional skills. His commit- ment to improving the skills of young people and ensuring their contribution to the UK economy was genuine. Many of those most committed

to the skills agenda also expressed their disappointment in his resig- nation. However, the appointment of Robert Halfon as the minister for apprenticeships and skills has been enthusiastically welcomed by those same experts who expressed disappointed in the resignation of

4 | august 2016 |

Boles – so we can hope that their optimism proves to be justifi ed. My only reservation is that moving

apprenticeships to the remit of the Department for Education might dis- engage the business community from the skills and apprenticeship agenda. Without business engaging with our educators, we are unlikely to achieve the improvement in UK skills that is so desperately needed. Halfon must ensure that business is fully engaged in the skills agenda and demand a strong focus and solid agenda for change. So, away from politics, but still

focused on apprenticeships, as a judge in the best apprenticeship category of the TJ Awards this year, I have been impressed by the number of applications received – the highest since their introduction. T is increased interest in apprenticeships is probably in part generated by the government’s introduction of the company levy – although there is still much debate around its introduction since the recent reshuffl e. Many companies may be investing in apprenticeships as a way of clawing back at least some of their future investment through the levy. A cynical view, perhaps, but hopefully this trend marks a broader change in attitudes towards on-the-job and vocational training.


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