From the Apprenticeship levy to Brexit, the shifting policy and skills landscape will mean change ahead for the science industries. The Science Industry Partnership (SIP) is making its voice heard on all these issues and assessing the implications for industry around the key challenges the sector is facing. Malcolm Skingle, Director, GSK and Chair of the SIP board, details their recent work below.

In recent months, the UK has witnessed the outcome of the referendum on European Union membership – which sees us moving towards a “Brexit”.  We’ve also seen the publication of the Sainsbury Review – which set out the most significant transformation of post-16 education in decades, and of course April 2017 sees the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.  Here we explore these events, and some other key developments in the landscape.

Skills moving from BIS to DfE
Skills are now entirely under the remit of the Department for Education (DfE) having been moved from the control of the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) –  since replaced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). On the face of it the opportunities created by integrating FE, Skills and Apprenticeships with schools could bring a more seamless approach to transitioning from learning to work and reflects the ambition of the Government’s recent Post 16 Skills Plan (see below). However the SIP is clear that there needs to be a continued strong link between Skills and Industrial Strategy and we will continue to engage with and work closely with both BEIS and the DfE to support their ambition and ensure the clear overlap is factored into policy thinking.

Apprenticeship levy
The Government recently confirmed that the apprenticeship levy is going ahead as planned. While it is focused on larger employers, it is also linked to a wider apprenticeship reform agenda that impacts on all employers.  The SIP wholeheartedly supports the Government’s plans to boost apprenticeships, with its own ambitious target for 20,000 coming into the sector over the next 5 years.  However, we want to see the Government carefully managing all the risks involved. If we don’t get the transition to the new system right, there’s a real danger that the uptake of apprenticeships will be adversely affected. Robert Halfon, the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister has described the successful introduction of the levy in April 2017 as the “single most important” aspect of his new role. The key dates for the levy are 6 April, when payment of the levy starts, and 1 May, when the funding system comes into effect. SIP comment on the levy

Sainsbury Technical Review
July saw the publication of the long-awaited report from the Sainsbury Review of Technical Education and the resulting Government Post-16 Skills Plan. The SIP believes this Plan is good news for learners and employers, as it provides an unprecedented opportunity to position academic and technical qualifications on an equal footing. The core of the plan sees the development of 15 new “pathfinder” technical routes, which include STEM options in Health and Science and Engineering and Manufacturing. The SIP is a ready-made employer panel to lead on STEM Standards for the new routes; it plans to work with the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to shape the learning and set out universally agreed standards for the new routes proposed. The key dates for the Skills Plan are October 2017 when the technical qualification content will be developed for the new routes and September 2019 which will see teaching of the routes begin. Full Skills Plan

HE White Paper
In May, the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published its HE White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. SIP members recognise that the UK has a global reputation for a high quality university system, and it is highly supportive of the Paper’s focus on the quality of teaching, more transparency around performance and ensuring students are prepared for the world of work.  Government has said that this will all be delivered through a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).  SIP employers are already committed to playing their part in building a business-ready scientific workforce, at all levels.  Support for Student Internships in industry, Degree Level Apprenticeships and specialist Masters Level courses are a key feature of the SIP’s Operational Plan. The full TEF structure will be introduced over the next 4 years.   Full HE White paper

The UK is still getting to grips with its decision to leave the EU and the SIP is seeking clarity on the skills agenda post “Brexit”.  We have called upon Government to reassure employers that skills policy will not be subject to further change. Areas under the spotlight for the science industries include what the decision means for EU nationals working in the UK, the ability to recruit  skilled individuals and the impact of Brexit on UK Science.  The UK has a world leading science base – but a key concern is continued access to talent. This is supported by the SIP’s recent research which forecasts the sector’s demand for skilled people out to 2025 – a projection of between 180,000 – 260,000 new scientific staff, many in new technology-based occupations. Of course the exit from the EU will not happen for at least 2 years; however SIP members recognise the need to be proactive and to work with the Government to ensure the very best environment for science-based companies.

Devolution deals are providing specific localities with the power to make their own funding decisions and the SIP is also engaging with bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) on industry priorities. Indeed, it has successfully bid for a number of local projects which are delivering science skills into the sector. We can also expect the Government’s Autumn Statement later this year; the Chancellor Philip Hammond has said, “now we are entering a new phase in the story of the British economy with the decision to leave the European Union. Our economy will change as we go forward to the future and will require a different set of parameters.” So we await the statement with interest.

For further information on skills support offered through SIP membership contact