With issues around the ever-increasing skills gap in construction, Hammond acknowledged that “we languish near the bottom of the international league tables for technical education”, and announced investment in technical qualifications for 16-19 year olds.
Skills and schools were both top priorities within Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s 69-page Budget.
In the full Budget report, Hammond said he planned to “help young people from ordinary working families across the country get the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future, vital for a competitive workforce.
“Technical education is confusing for students, with 13,000 qualifications available, many of them with little value,” he said.
In creating T-Levels, the technical qualification equivalent of A-Levels, the Government is delivering on recommendations made by Lord Sainsbury’s review on technical education last year.
T-Levels will define 15 qualification pathways into 15 sector areas, including construction, engineering, transport and logistics, health and science.
Hammond said 16-19 year olds would see “an increase in the number of hours of learning of over 50%, including a high quality work placement for each student.”
The increase would equate to each student spending 900 hours a year on average in vocational training.
The new routes would be introduced by 2020, and “once fully implemented” would receive £500m in funding each year.
At school level, the Chancellor announced £320m to fund an additional 140 free schools, on top of the 500 schools committed to in the Autumn Statement.
He also said £216m would be spent in the next three years to improve the existing school estate.
Hammond also looked at the need to retrain adults over the course of their working lives, as “the changing nature of work makes retraining and reskilling essential.”
The government said it plans to spend up to £40m by 2018-19 to test different approaches to help people to “retrain and upskill”.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The Chancellor clearly understands that the UK won’t address the productivity challenge unless we rethink our approach to technical and vocational education. T-Levels could be the answer if they genuinely rival A-Levels in the eyes of parents, teachers and young people.
“UK society as a whole has been guilty of putting too much emphasis on the academic route – this has made it more difficult for vital sectors like construction and house building to attract the talented people we need. In construction, we are suffering from a severe skills shortage and this is likely to worsen once we leave the EU and no longer have easy access to European labour. This £500m funding announced today for T-Levels is therefore a welcome and much-needed boost.”
Greater Manchester interim Mayor Tony Lloyd said: “While the devil will be in the detail, the Government’s announcements on productivity, social care and skills look to be welcome moves. However, these announcements are balanced against significant year on year cuts to Greater Manchester council budgets and a social care funding gap of £176m within our city-region.
“Greater Manchester leaders would welcome the opportunity to ensure the skills measures announced today fit the needs of our city-region. In Greater Manchester we’re already working with employers, colleges and agencies to give people the skills and qualifications that businesses really want, to get more people into better paid jobs and to raise the average salary of the region.”
Dr Gordon Fletcher, business and retail expert from the University of Salford Business School, said: “The introduction of T-Levels will be by no means be a guaranteed solution to this skills shortage. A number of previous budgets have attempted to introduce new awards and delivery mechanism with minimal success against our underlying cultural preference for A-Levels.”