Robert Halfon, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, set out his plans, priorities and resolutions for 2017 in FE Week recently and I am keen to reflect on these in the context of our land based sector…
The Minister identifies, ‘2017 is likely to be a hugely significant year for apprenticeships, skills, further education and careers’. I believe this is particularly relevant to the land based sector, with our need for greater and smarter use of technology, the challenges Brexit will bring, the nature of our very diverse and widely distributed businesses, and the crucial issues of food production and caring for the environment.
A major change in 2017 will take place in April when the apprenticeship levy comes into force. The Government estimates that the levy will result in £2.5 billion being invested into apprenticeships by 2020 (double that spent in 2010). Robert Halfon highlights the specific intended specific investment in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and it remains a fundamentally important issue for the land based sector that land based vocations are recognised as STEM subjects at the further education level. There are many organisations lobbying hard for this and I know from my own experience studying on both a City & Guilds National Certificate and BTEC National Diploma course, the high level of science and technology that they contained, from the use of high-tech equipment, to plant & animal health and nutrition. Thirty years on the gaining STEM status would have a massively positive impact on the funding and thereby the overall quality of the training and education that young people entering the land based sector would receive. This is potentially most crucial in Trailblazer apprenticeships, where STEM accreditation would greatly enhance their delivery.
I agree with the Minister that “apprenticeships are a ladder of opportunity” and to this aim NLBC is delighted to be in the initial discussions around the development of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships. I also align with the Minister’s view that “quality must sit at the core of all of our changes” and look forward to the impact of the Institute of Apprenticeships launching soon, and to far greater employer involvement.
2017 will see the Technical and Further Education Bill continue its passage through parliament. This bill, following on from the Sainsbury Review and Post-16 Skills Plan, identifies ‘Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care’ (i.e. land based) as one of the 15 Technical Education Routes. I believe it is crucial that our sector fully recognises this clustering of all our vocations into one group and fully grasps the opportunity. Each of the 15 vocational routes will have its own Panel of Professionals to develop standards that would apply to work-based and college-based specific occupations and provide a high-level steer on qualification content. The recruitment for the Chairs and members of each panel is happening now and when you consider that our panel must cover everything from animal care in zoos, to forestry and food production, it is clear how important the make-up of our panel is. Please encourage interested and appropriate people to apply!
Attracting the right talent into our land based sector has always been a challenge. Robert Halfon highlights the fundamental importance of careers advice and guidance, which encourages people to pursue professional and technical education and apprenticeships as much as university options. The Minister stresses that “Everyone, no matter what age or what background, [must be able to] rely on excellent and consistent careers advice”. I believe that a continued evolution of Bright Crop and the potential for stronger alliances with other land based careers initiatives, will achieve a positive impact for our sector.
Following Robert Halfon’s comments, this week we heard from our Prime Minister Theresa May on the focus she is placing on developing skills and upgrading infrastructure, including better broadband for all. Business Secretary Greg Clark was also championing technical education and the importance of people being able to learn practical skills. Seemingly everywhere you turn now our Government is championing skills development and there could be some great opportunities within the
year ahead. Our ambition is that NLBC will be a part of ensuring that the land based (or should I say the ‘Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care’) sector is appropriately catered for.