Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said he is focused on ensuring young people in the UK are equipped with skills that will lead them into jobs and is keen to work with the hospitality industry to establish even more engagement between employers and educators.
As part of the Master Innholders' ‘Hoteliers – battered but not beaten' series of online events, Williamson was interviewed earlier today by UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls about a wide range of topics including changing the reputation of the industry as ‘low-skilled', further education and apprenticeships.
Williamson recognised that "there are also a lot of mid- to high-level skills" in the industry, that the sector "will play an important role in driving down unemployment" following the pandemic and that he would "very much" recommend a career in the sector to his own children.
When asked if further education was seen as a ‘poor relation' to higher education and how the narrative can be changed, Williamson said the bias towards university was "disappointing" and should be changed.
"I really want to totally change the way people look at college education and I think it will also bring significant benefits to the hospitality sector by having that renewed focus on colleges," he said.
He highlighted that the government had increased funding by 20% for colleges doing catering courses in the last year in recognition of the extra capital required to invest in equipment and said one way the government was supporting the sector was by continuing to invest in this area.
He particularly highlighted the importance of employers having a voice in education and local authority settings to ensure their skills needs were being met and that young people were equipped to deploy their skills in those businesses, and linking up businesses with colleges so that funding is targeted at the local economic need.
"For far too long we've not been linking the skills to the jobs [there's] no point in investing so much money into young people developing skills they're not then going to be able to deploy in a place of work," he said.
"Education has got to be about equipping to enable people to earn a living… we've got to be so much better at co-designing qualifications that are not just theoretically good but workplace practical, but we can only do that with your help. A brilliant example is what we've been doing with the industry on T-levels… but we've got to expand that far further."
When Nicholls asked how the industry could help get that message across at a school level, Williamson responded that businesses and leaders could get involved in their local careers service and link in with local schools and colleges to talk about the value of and opportunities within the sector.
"As we roll out T-levels the ability to get involved in that through work placements presents a brilliant opportunity to be able to see young people at the early stage of their development, see how they perform, see how they work and maybe snaffle the very best talent before your competitor gets them," he said.
He added: "Colleges for me are the absolute lifeblood of the skills system. They should be there to throw open their doors and have employers come in, and employers can really play an important role in terms of working closely with them. It's a two-way street… [and] a very fast-changing relationship but one that hospitality can be a really big voice in."
Next month's Master Innholders webinar event will see culture secretary Oliver Dowden in the hot seat.
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