Burnham: technical skills at heart of “game changer” devo bid

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham wants to involve local businesses in a “game changer” devolution deal to shape new T-level courses in order to plug skills gaps in the regional economy.

At a press conference on Friday, Burnham said employers would be at the heart of a new integrated skills and work system alongside the Department of Education and a new Greater Manchester technical skills board.

Flanked by Clive Memmott, chief executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Lisa O’Loughlin, chair of the Greater Manchester Colleges Group (pictured), and Councillor Eamonn O’Brien, GMCA lead for Education, Skills, Work, Apprenticeships and Digital, Burnham called for the city-region to be given further powers to become the first city region to develop an integrated skills system, giving young people a clear line of sight to available opportunities.

He said: “As we continue to negotiate with Government on the next round of devolution, we are offering government the opportunity to work with us to create the country’s first integrated technical education system in Greater Manchester.

“To achieve our ambitions, we need to integrate the skills system, giving young people a clear sight of the available opportunities by matching employers and learners. The system would boost Government’s delivery of T-levels, through more joined up working with colleges and businesses.”
As recently as October 2022 an interim government report into T-levels, introduced in 2020, noted the poor take up by employers in offering work experience and placement opportunities to students as a serious impediment to their success. The report said: “Providers of digital, construction, and health and science courses in particular were struggling to find employers.”

Burnham claimed that by closely working with businesses locally Greater Manchester could show a way to make T-levels work.
Councillor Eamonn O’Brien said a lack of technical skills within Greater Manchester’s workforce is holding business back. “With an integrated work and skills system, we can create a system that is resilient and flexible, adapting to meet employers’ needs in the rapidly changing 21st century world of work.

“We want to make sure that businesses want to invest and create good jobs in Greater Manchester, and that our residents have the best chance to access those new opportunities across the city-region. Our devolution proposals would play a big part in creating opportunity, addressing skills shortages and building Greater Manchester’s economy.”

Clive Memmott, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a very important initiative because technical education has been the poor relation to academic education in this country for far too long.

Lisa O’Loughlin, Principal at Greater Manchester College, said the proposals had the potential for businesses to work with colleges on a local curriculum: “If Greater Manchester is to realise its full potential and develop a highly skilled workforce that drives economic growth it is vital that it is able to develop a best-in-class technical education system which connects people from across the region with the economic opportunities that are available to them. Key to this is enabling and encouraging employers to work in partnership with education providers across the region to ensure that curriculums are equipping learners with the skills that they will need in their workforce.

Greater Manchester’s trailblazer proposals on technical skills follow the devolution of the Adult Education Budget (AEB) which saw the city-region take on responsibility for adult skills back in August 2019, and GM Working Well (Work & Health Programme), part of a suite of employment support programmes that help people with health conditions to move towards/into sustained work.

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