The Education Secretary has laid out plans to shake up the current further education (FE) system in a move he says will supercharge the UK’s fightback after the pandemic.
New measures, announced in the Queen’s Speech, will see reforms to student finance – including a new flexible loan system designed to promote wider participation.
Employers will be given a statutory role in providing publicly funded training programmes, while the Education Secretary will have more powers to intervene in colleges that “fail to meet local needs”.
It builds on the lifetime skills guarantee announced last month, which pledged hundreds of free qualifications for adult learners.
South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson has pushed for a Government focus on skills training and technical qualifications since he became Education Secretary nearly two years ago.
He told the Express & Star that he would champion the “often forgotten” 50 per cent of young people who didn’t go to university, and said widening participation in FE for adult learners would be a “powerful”tool” in the Government’s levelling up agenda.
He said: “This is the start of the real big revolution in post-16 education. As someone who went to college myself I’ve seen what a big difference they make to people’s lives at a local level.
“As a Government we had to get the balance better in terms of delivering the skills that we need to really drive the country forward.
"Of course, degrees are important, but so often its those technical qualifications taught at colleges that are so much in demand from employers.
"We see that here in Staffordshire and the Black Country, with employers such as Jaguar Land Rover and Collins. It’s the same with the big tech firms.
"So as well as the 50 per cent of young people who go to university, we’ve also got to be making sure that there is real good alternatives to doing a straight three year degree.”
Mr Williamson said that local colleges including Dudley, Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire would have a key role to play in his plans.
“If we want to drive the West Midlands economy forward, we have to be in a position to create the opportunities for people of all ages, which is what we are doing,” he added.
“The West Midlands has always been seen as one of the most productive parts of the country due to our great manufacturing heritage. Now is the time to step up the skills revolution and to help people to get those better jobs to advance their careers.”
According to the Government, one third of working-age undergraduates are not in highly skilled employment, and in 2019 employers were unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills.
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is set to be introduced to Parliament on May 18.