Role of managers missing from government’s skills agenda, think tanks warn

As the Department for Education publishes legislation on post-16 and adult education, experts call for investment in management training to support young and low-skilled staff

The government has introduced legislation that will give employers a bigger role in directing post-16 and adult education, but experts have said it fails to recognise the role of line managers in supporting young talent.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, published last night (18 May) by the Department for Education (DfE), aims to create more routes into skilled employment and will introduce a “legal requirement that employers and colleges collaborate” and develop skills plans that will meet the needs of local areas.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the bill was a “significant milestone” in the government's plan to transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape. “This legislation will be vital so we can make sure everyone can gain the skills they need to get a great job locally and businesses have access to the qualified employees they need to thrive.”

However, a report released today has warned the government’s policies on skills and employment fail to take into account the crucial role managers will play in the success of its job creation programme.

Research published by the Learning and Work Institute (LWI) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) said good management was critical in helping low-skilled and younger employees – two of the key demographics targeted by the government’s policy – stay and thrive in the workplace.

These new starters would be at a disadvantage compared to those with more experience or higher-level qualifications and would need greater support, it said.

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In the research, which polled 1,300 employees and 1,000 managers, nine in 10 (91 per cent) low-skilled employees said it was important to have a supportive manager when taking on new roles.

However, three in five (60 per cent) of the managers polled said it was harder to manage new recruits since the start of the first lockdown, while more than four in five (86 per cent) said their role in onboarding skilled workers has grown in importance over the last year because of the additional support needed by employees.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, director of policy and research at the LWI, said it was “critical” the UK puts money into good management alongside its investment in employment and skills programmes.

“This will ensure that those most affected by the economic crisis have the best chance of successfully returning to and progressing at work – and are able to share in the benefits of economic recovery,” she said.

Daisy Hooper, head of policy and public affairs at the CMI, added that good management was “crucial for employee success and retention” but was missing in the government’s efforts to help people enter and thrive in the workplace.

“Good managers are key in helping low-skilled and younger people entering employment have the motivation to stay and to achieve their potential,” she said. “To ensure the success of its considerable investment and value for the taxpayer the government needs to embed good management practice into its employment and skills policy.

“This will not only benefit employers and employees but also the economy and society, with more people getting and keeping good-quality, productive jobs.”

According to a report by the Centre for Vocational Education Research, cited by the DfE, just 4 per cent of young people gain a higher technical level qualification, such as foundation degrees, apprenticeships and higher national diplomas, by the time they reach the age of 25, compared to 33 per cent who get an undergraduate degree. This is despite higher technical level qualifications often leading to jobs with higher wages than degrees.