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Queens’s speech: young women let down by lack of support

The introduction of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced in the Queen's Speech yesterday (11 May), has been broadly welcomed although there are concerns it will not do enough to protect young women left vulnerable after the pandemic.

The much-anticipated Lifetime Skills Guarantee will offer every UK adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education.

Steve Collinson, HR director at Zurich UK, said the announcement of a skills revolution and the introduction of a skills guarantee could not come at a better time.

He said: “The pandemic has had a fundamental impact on the UK labour market and its skill base.

“Addressing the long-term impact of this whilst reshaping the continued evolution of labour demand will be a huge challenge.”

Collinson also urged the government, as part of its skills revolution, to review the current apprenticeship levy and adjust it to a more flexible model at an increased pace.

“This is particularly important for industries, such as financial services, which will be impacted by technological advancements including the growth of automation and artificial intelligence.

“Zurich has already invested almost £1m to upskill its workforce and build a truly adaptable and agile team, helping our employees future-proof their careers,” he said.

The government said its main focus is to help the country recover from the pandemic, after the economy shrank by 9.9% last year.

However, Joe Levenson, director of communications and campaigns at Young Women’s Trust, said the initiative showed how little in the way of the concrete support there was for young women who have been left jobless and struggling after the pandemic.

He said: “Whilst the plans to boost adult education and training are welcome, far more needs to be done to ensure training schemes and apprenticeships are accessible and affordable for all.

“The government needs to commit to a permanent uplift to universal credit, to help support the 1.5 million young women who have lost income since the pandemic started.”

Levenson said the lack of detail on social care reform is also deeply concerning given the pledges in previous years.

“Without a radical overhaul of both social care and early years education, young women will continue to pick up the pieces of the present system as unpaid and low-paid carers,” he said.

The introduction of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill was also announced yesterday. It will be introduced on 18 May.

Janine Chamberlin, LinkedIn’s UK country manager, said the introduction of the Bill will be welcomed by businesses and jobseekers.

She said: “Helping people to learn and retain new skills is fundamental to building an equitable recovery.

“This is particularly true as the economy starts to bounce back from the pandemic and the government seeks to spread job and skills opportunities right across the UK.”

Simon Lambert, chief learning officer at Microsoft UK, said the government is absolutely right to put skills front and centre of the UK’s recovery.

He said: “Improving access to adult education is a step in the right direction to creating a skills-based hiring market and lifelong learning culture.

“Microsoft's and LinkedIn's research shows that the past year has sparked a wave of career switching, especially into roles using technology to help transform UK businesses.”

Lambert said people are keen to learn, as nearly three quarters of over 45s (73%) said they are willing to invest time in learning new skills.

“The lifetime skills guarantee will help ensure equal opportunities for all and connect people's new skills, no matter their age or previous education, to the jobs of the future," he said.