On 28th January 2016 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Sharp of Guildford “that this House takes note of the role of adult education and lifelong learning and the need to develop the skills needed to strengthen the United Kingdom economy.” The Bishop of Dery, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke in the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing the debate and from these Benches I want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. From our perspective she has continually shown a very special and thoughtful faith—faith in people, faith in politics and faith in goodness. That is the kind of model that we all need to aspire to, and the noble Baroness has certainly been a great inspiration to me and to many of my colleagues.
I want to look at skills and the strengthening of the UK economy. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others about the skills shortage, which is much in evidence. There is a clear mismatch between the needs of business and learning provision. We have heard about the dramatic decline in the number of places for part-time study, and I think that a strong case can be made for earn-as-you-learn opportunities for people at every stage, especially as employment is now such a variable journey for so many people.
Perhaps I may give two small signs of hope from my own experience and to put two questions to the Minister. The first sign of hope is around the question of how organisations and businesses need to be into lifelong learning, too. Some noble Lords will know that I had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee which considered the Modern Slavery Bill. I participated in the work of the committee and I continue to work in that area. I spoke to businesses such as Toyota in Derbyshire, where I work, about supply chains, which is a big issue in the problem of slavery.
The law department of the University of Derby, with which I have been working, has launched a module on investigating modern slavery. It will help businesses and the people who work for them to be trained to discern the temptations and the techniques that criminals use to infiltrate people in slavery into the supply chain. It will also help them to perform better, not just morally but more effectively, through having committed and well cared for workers. That is an example of organisations being resourced to learn by our university sector. I commend that; we need to be on the front foot as conditions change to make sure that the economy is fit for purpose.
The second sign of hope concerns equipping young people for the world of work, which I experience the pain of in my day job. We have a post-industrial arc in Derbyshire. Where there used to be coal mines and heavy industry, now there are just a few fork-lift truck drivers fiddling about in warehouses. Generations of people are unemployed, especially young people.
Yesterday, I was at Derby College. It has 25,000 learners of all ages and stages, including part-time and full-time. It has pioneering links with employers such as Rolls-Royce and Toyota through apprenticeships and other schemes, and it works with 14 year-olds coming out of school. It helps young people engage with the world of work and learning, not just for a specific task such as an apprenticeship might deliver but to have an attitude and a confidence to engage with employers and work that will equip them for the future.
Derby College is working at the micro as well as the macro level. I came across a remarkable woman of 19 and has trained as a hairdresser. She has opened her first salon, giving jobs to other people. She said, “It’s so wonderful to make others feel better about themselves”. She is obviously quite a good hairdresser if that is the result. The micro level is very important in a flexible economy to create those opportunities. There is also cradle-to-grave learning. The college is involved with crèches, with 14 to 16 year-olds, older learners and relearners. We have to give people an aptitude for learning.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, given the funding pressures and the complex journeys in and out of work that many people experience, how can the Government encourage seriously an earn-as-you-learn opportunity? For many people I know and work with, it would make a huge difference if you could upskill by earning at the same time. Secondly, with the regionalisation and devolution that is happening, we are creating quite large units to generate proper economic capacity in a global world, which is proper and which I appreciate. But, as those large, devolved economic units are crafted for the national economy, how will we hang on to localness, with places such as Derby College being able to negotiate with local communities, the people in them and their needs, to bring them into the world of work and continuing learning? We must not mirror large-scale economic activities with vast learning agencies that lose that local touch and local connection. I should be glad if the Minister would comment on how those things might be held together.