That is the message from the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges following the publication of the levelling up white paper, the government’s action plan to spread prosperity and opportunity more evenly.
One of the 12 levelling up ‘missions’ involves helping 200,000 more people a year complete high quality training to address the national skills gap – a task that West Yorkshire’s further education colleges are ideally placed to take on.
Chair of WYCC and Principal of Shipley College, Nav Chohan (left), said: “Working with the local Chambers of Commerce and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, the West Yorkshire colleges want to help our local communities both access skills support and improve the economic performance of the region.”
Skills and training are identified as crucial areas in the levelling up white paper, but the government has been criticised for its focus on the creation of new elite sixth form free schools.
Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, described the sixth form proposals as ‘flying in the face of collaborative, place-based approaches’ to levelling up.
WYCC member and CEO of Luminate Education Group, Colin Booth, is instead keen to draw the emphasis back to where it should be – on further education based skills training.
He said: “The government’s suggestion that the creation of elite sixth form free schools will help us level up is a complete red herring; such institutions would only help a small number of already high-achieving young people.
“Instead, it is high quality, vocationally-centred post-16 education and training, which so many young people and adults need, that we should be focused on. As our employers keep telling us, we have vacancies around our county and across the country right now just waiting to be filled.
“By collaborating closely and working with local companies we, as West Yorkshire’s further education colleges, can ensure we are offering a comprehensive, joined-up skills programme that truly serves our communities and economy. That is the path to levelling up, and it will need to be supported by some substantial investment.”
Fellow WYCC member, and Principal and CEO of Kirklees College, Palvinder Singh, added: “Education is the vehicle to economic prosperity.
“We are excited to be working together and collaborating for the benefit of our communities.”