I wouldn’t start from here if I were you

As I enjoyed the hottest day of the year I mused on the government’s announcement that it is delaying until 2020 the start of its “T Level” scheme. That’s T for technical. The scheme is going to cost some £500 million. It’s supposedly going to encourage young people to study all those technical skills of which the country is short. If you look at the shortage occupations list from the UK visa bureau, I don’t believe that T Levels are going to be much help, particularly given that the first three T Levels are going to be in construction, digital, and education and childcare.

I wondered about spending this vast amount of money on a project that has at best an uncertain chance of success. And I remembered how much the HS2 project is going to cost; £56 billion, which will supposedly shave 23 minutes off the time it takes to get to Birmingham from London by rail.  We could have 112 T Level projects for that. A joke then came to mind. A wanderer asks a passer-by the way to Manchester. The passer-by says: “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.” One of the skills we have in abundance in this country is putting the cart before the horse.

If we have skills shortages – and evidently we do – no amount of ‘innovation’ like T Levels is going to help. We already have a plethora of HNDs and B-TECs that are supposed to do precisely the same thing. For a very rich country – the HS2 scheme got the green light in 2012, just four years after the financial crash – our public spending priorities seem to me to be bonkers. Rather than plough £500 million into T Levels the money could be much more effectively spent on genuinely giving former offenders jobs and education, and on bringing the disabled into the workforce. But that kind of idea doesn’t have the publicity stunt of a new qualification that will die on its feet like all the other top-down ‘initiatives’.

John Swinney, Chair