How to solve an issue like levelling up? Through education and skills, of course.

Feb 1, 2022

By Beatrice Barleon, Head of Public Affairs & Policy, EngineeringUK

The long-awaited levelling up white paper is expected to land tomorrow and much has already been talked about and leaked in terms of what this white paper will and may entail. We hear, there will be government money for certain areas such as Sheffield and Wolverhampton, the 2 areas to benefit first from a new regeneration programme. In addition, we have also heard, that there will be a focus on skills and education in the white paper, with the government for example announcing that there will be new ‘Education Investment Areas’ and that Institutes of Technology are here to stay and will be rolled out further.

The focus on education and skills is music to our ears at EngineeringUK and we look forward to finding out more about what exactly the levelling up white paper tells us about how the government intends to tackle the educational and skills inequalities in England for young people. We are keen to hear not only more of the detail on how government plans to encourage more specialist STEM teachers to work in schools that have struggled to attract and retain them. We also look forward to getting some insights into what government will do to ensure that young people, wherever they are, have access to the various routes into the STEM, and for us more specifically engineering. These careers will not only drive the economic recovery in this country and across all the regions but are also vital to achieve our national ambitions around net zero and help tackle climate change.

As it stands, there are significant regional variations not only in the percentage of young people achieving STEM A levels, which is an important route into engineering careers, with for instance the North-East producing far fewer STEM A level students than London (37% compared to 46% of all A level students in the region), but also in how much they know about the different vocational routes into engineering. EngineeringUK’s most recent briefing highlighted that while in London 49% of young people know what T levels are, only 29% of young people in Yorkshire and the Humber and just 30% in the West Midlands do. This is a similar picture with regards to knowledge of different apprenticeship options too. These findings and insights raise a number of questions and issues that the white paper, if serious about levelling up skills across England, must address.

What we’re looking for

We therefore will look to the white paper to tell us what steps the government will take to help level up knowledge and awareness of vocational routes into science and engineering, including apprenticeships and T levels. We’ll also be looking for it to provide some more insights into what the government will do to widen participation of, for example, young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in vocational, academic and combined routes into science and engineering, with this factor playing into the regional variations. What role does the government see the Institutes of Technology taking in this and how will they interact with Local Skills Improvement Plans? And we also hope to get a clearer picture of how government departments will work together to ensure an integrated approach on areas like skills, careers provision, youth unemployment and future workforce planning.

The levelling up white paper is a one-time opportunity for government to tackle many of the educational and skills issues that have held back parts of England for many years. It is therefore vital that what we will get tomorrow rises to that challenge and provides a long-term plan as to how to level up skills, including engineering and STEM skills more widely, in England. The white paper will need to succeed not only in bringing together the often quite disparate policies on skills that we have seen coming out of different government departments, but also clearly build and add to them. Rehashing old ideas and old money alone will not suffice. The regions currently most disadvantaged, and in particular the young people within, need to be able to see that their future is bright and that there will be educational, training and job opportunities all across England going forward, no matter where you live.

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