Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Pwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau

Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Bethan Sayed AC
David J. Rowlands AC
Hefin David AC
Joyce Watson AC
Mark Reckless AC
Russell George AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Vikki Howells AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Beverly Owen Cyfarwyddwr Strategol Lleoedd, Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd, Partneriaeth Sgiliau Prifddinas-Ranbarth Caerdydd
Strategic Director of Place, Newport City Council, Cardiff Capital Region Skills Partnership
David Jones Prif Weithredwr, Coleg Cambria
Chief Executive, Coleg Cambria
Dr Rachel Bowen Cyfarwyddwr Polisi a Datblygu, ColegauCymru
Director of Policy and Development, CollegesWales
Guy Lacey Pennaeth, Coleg Gwent
Principal, Coleg Gwent
Jane Lewis Rheolwr Partneriaeth Ranbarthol, Partneriaeth Dysgu a Sgiliau Rhanbarthol De-Orllewin a Canolbarth Cymru
Regional Partnership Manager, South West & Mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership
Mark Jones Pennaeth a Phrif Weithredwr, Coleg Gwyr Abertawe
Principal and Chief Executive, Gower College Swansea
Sasha Davies Cadeirydd, Partneriaeth Sgiliau Ranbarthol Gogledd Cymru
Chair, North Wales Regional Skills Partnership
Sian Lloyd Roberts Rheolwr Sgiliau Rhanbarthol, Partneriaeth Sgiliau Ranbarthol Gogledd Cymru
Regional Skills Manager, North Wales Regional Skills Partnership

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gareth Price Clerc
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Robert Lloyd-Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.

The meeting began at 09:31.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da, good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee. I do move to item 1. We don't have any apologies this morning, but we do have Members that are joining us later on this morning. If there are any declarations of interest, please do declare them now. 

2. Papers to Note
2. Papurau i'w Nodi

In that case, I do move to item 2, and we have a paper from the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee. That is to note, if Members are happy to note that paper. Thank you. 

3. Partneriaeth Sgiliau Rhanbarthol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth Gyflwyniadol
3. Regional Skills Partnerships: Introductory evidence session

In that case, I move to item 3, and this is the first session in a new inquiry that the committee is undertaking with regard to regional skills partnerships. This session is very much an introductory session, and I'm very grateful to our witnesses this morning for making time to come to committee to help us in that first step of our inquiry. Perhaps if I could just ask each of you to introduce yourselves—who you are and who you represent—for the public record, and I start from my left. 

Good morning. I'm Beverly Owen. I'm strategic director for place at Newport City Council. Apologies on behalf of the chair, Leigh Hughes, from the south-east Wales partnership this morning, who couldn't make it, and also very late apologies from Richard Crook as vice-chair, who had an operation on his foot earlier this week.

Newport City Council, just to clarify our role and my position here today, we took over the hosting role for the south-east Wales partnership just before Christmas, in December 2018, so we're in transition phase. So, I'm here representing as best I can the partnership today.

Can you just explain? What is the hosting? When you mention that you were hosting—?

We will host the RSP co-ordinator, which previously was hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association for the south-east Wales region.

Bore da, good morning. My name is Jane Lewis, and I manage the regional skills partnership for south-west and mid Wales. 

Bore da, good morning. I'm Sasha Davies, and I'm here in my capacity as private sector chair of the north Wales regional skills partnership. 

Bore da. I'm Sian Lloyd Roberts and I'm here as the manager for the north Wales regional skills partnership. 

Thank you. I think, when Members have questions, we're not expecting all of you to answer every question. Please feel free to—. There's an opportunity to chat between you, but decide between you, perhaps, who you might want to answer the question.

If I could ask the first question, can somebody explain what you've got in your contracts with the Welsh Government? What is in the contract that you have with them? Thank you, Jane.

So, contractually, the RSP delivers the annual employment and skills plan on behalf of Welsh Government, and that also includes a template where we make recommendations on changes in provision for further education and work-based learning. We're also responsible for employer engagement, which is a key activity that has grown over the last few years. Welsh Government has required us to do this, but we feel that this is the way to inform the plans more effectively about what employers in the region want. We also manage a regional observatory, which contains all the labour market intelligence data for the region, which is open to everybody to look at and to use at their discretion. And then our work extends further for specific pieces of work that each of us have done, but not contractually led by Welsh Government.


If I may just add to that, certainly in north Wales we have a small marketing budget as well, which clearly helps us market and explain to the wider business community and the public in north Wales about the role of RSPs. Clearly, we have an annual budget allocation from Welsh Government—that's, for north Wales, £165,000—but, clearly, that is primarily for salary, oncosts linked to that and, as I said, a small marketing budget and website as well, the observatory that Jane has covered. So, quite limited resources in terms of probably what's expected of us.

Okay. I'm not asking the other witnesses to add to that, if there's nothing to add, if you're all in agreement that that's the same. And can you explain what your relationship is or how your partnerships work with city and growth deals? There's an aspect here that I think, as a committee, we want to try and understand—how you link in with them.

I think we are all slightly different, so I think it will be useful if each of the regions spoke on that one.

In terms of the north Wales growth deal, clearly we are at bid stage currently. I, wearing another hat, am the interim private sector chair for the private sector business delivery group for the north Wales growth deal. So, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board lead on the work developing our growth bid, and we are aiming to, we hope, achieve heads of terms with both the Welsh Government and UK Government on the growth deal some time this summer, so we're very much at the developmental stage in terms of the projects, reaching heads of terms and then we'll start developing the five-case business model—

And you say you've got two hats on in this. Just explain that again to me.

Okay. So, in addition to my day job for Horizon Nuclear Power, as I said, I chair the north Wales regional skills partnership, and I also am the interim chair for the north Wales growth bid business delivery group. So, that's another chair role that I have in terms of the economy role of taking things forward in north Wales.

The relationship with the growth bid and the north Wales regional skills partnership—specifically on that point—we will be commissioned as a regional skills partnership to undertake elements to specific projects that Sian can cover if you'd like more detail on that, if we, of course, get to approval stage. So, we will be commissioned to lead on the skills work. And then, importantly, for you to note as well in terms of our relationship as a regional skills partnership, obviously Welsh Government-sponsored, but we are a sub-group of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board. In terms of governance, we are wholly accountable to Welsh Government, but there is, if you like, a dotted line, importantly, into the economic ambition board to make sure, in terms of skills activities, that we're not duplicating, that we are co-ordinated in our approach.

So, we are in a very different position, actually, from north Wales. We, as an RSP, were set up to work across south-west and mid Wales, and there are, obviously, two potential deals there. We have a city deal in the south-west and we have a growth deal in mid Wales. We are independent of both of those deals, although, within the city deal, it's made up of 11 different projects, and the eleventh project is a skills and talent project. So, it's a separate project altogether and the RLSP would lead on that project when it's approved.


Sorry, we're called the 'regional learning and skills partnership'. I beg your pardon.

So, we wrote the business plan for that project and have submitted it for approval by Welsh and UK Governments. That hasn't been approved as yet, but within that project, it will look at the skills requirements of the other 10 projects.

Now this can't be done in isolation, because if I use digital as an example, digital is a cross-cutting theme across 10 projects, but digital is important for normal day-to-day businesses in south-west and mid Wales and it’s a growing skill that is going to be needed moving forward. But some of the projects that make up the city deal will have skills that we don't even have jobs for at the moment, because they're very niche. But how we've developed for that particular programme is that we've set up an independent group to the sector cluster groups that we currently have, which will specifically look at skills for the city deal project and will report back to the board.

Now, in relation to the growth deal, obviously this is still under consideration—

The mid Wales—sorry, I beg your pardon. On the mid Wales growth deal, we've been working with the consultants who were appointed by Growing Mid Wales to look at the economic action plan for the region and incorporate skills within that action plan. We've provided them with all the data that we could in order to inform that plan, and we will continue to work with them as that progresses.

In terms of the growth deals and all their different stages and the regional skills partnerships, do you all feel that they're working well and that they integrate well? Is there any issue there at all?

Certainly from a north Wales perspective I think that it will work well. We have a good working relationship with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and then also, importantly, the role of the further education sector is important—again, there are good working relationships there. And clearly, from the north Wales perspective, because we are not as advanced as the other two regions, it’s looking at lessons learnt from the other regions as well. So, clearly, as chairs of the regional skills partnerships and the co-ordinators, we do meet and compare notes and keep in touch.

And the funding in terms of the growth deal work, how does that compare to the funding that you get directly from Welsh Government as a regional skills partnership?

Again, I think from each region, we'd probably explain—

In the north, we're not there yet. It would be a minimal amount, but hopefully we'll get approved. So, the other regions are probably better placed to answer that. 

We haven't got any money yet either.

Okay, well, that's fine—that's answered that then. Right, Joyce Watson.

Okay. I want to discuss with you how skills are aligned, basically. So, why do you think that the regional skills partnerships are the best means of aligning skills provision with the demands of the economy? And is the regional level the right level to define those skills?

If I can just go to Beverly first, because I missed you just before I called Joyce. Do you want to come in, Beverly?

Yes, that's no problem. Probably, if I go straight into the AM's question, the latest question. So, Cardiff capital region city deal is probably, again as colleagues have said, different to a number of the others. It’s been established for some time. The regional cabinet has been in place for some time and skills have been a significant priority on the CCR city deal agenda. The regional skills partnership and the Cardiff capital region employability and skills board are one and the same thing. However, the demarcation in terms of the roles is very well documented—it's really clear in terms of how the RSP is constituted and how that reports back to Welsh Government under its contractual arrangements.

But, for example, within the regional skills partnership, the leader of my council, Councillor Debbie Wilcox, actually sits on the RSP and so is obviously a member of the regional cabinet. The vice-chair also sits on the city deal programme board, so there’s significant synergy between the ambitions of the city deal and the agenda of the skills partnership. However, obviously, the skills partnership is very demand-led in terms of industry, chaired by industry, Chair.

Leigh Hughes, who is the chair, also sits on the regional economic growth partnership, which is driving forward the CCR industrial plan—so, again, evidence of further integration. And also, I think, in terms of a very good example of how the regional skills partnership/employability and skills board has responded to the ambitions of the city deal, it now has a cluster group specifically looking at compound semiconductor delivery, which is obviously the first major investment that the Cardiff capital region city deal made. So, that's how those two integrate.

In terms of—coming back to the aims question—why the RSPs, certainly in my view, are best placed to deliver against this agenda, as I said, they are demand-led. The south-east Wales one certainly is very inclusive in terms of industry. We are going to review the terms of reference, because it is a big board; there are a lot of people who sit round the table due to RSP.

The regional skills partnership, as you'll be aware, is at the centre of the skills policy in Wales. That’s been set out, and it also reflects the Welsh Government’s economic action plan in terms of regional working.

I think I would also say, in terms of regional versus local versus national providers, whether it’s HE, FE or other third sector providers, most don't operate on a local footprint. So, I think, certainly from the south-east Wales perspective, national is too big, local is probably too small. However, the RSPs do have to be fed by an underpinning local structure, which I think is happening, certainly in the south-east Wales region.


I'd certainly echo Bev’s comments in relation to why the regional skills partnerships—. I think the fact that we are independent, to some extent—certainly from a north Wales perspective, in the importance of having the private sector having a key role in terms of chairing, for example, that particular time. Now, I am the chair as a private sector person.

But I think, importantly, in terms of the regional dimension, as Bev alluded to, in north Wales, clearly, we’ve got two FE colleges working in north-west Wales, effectively, and north-east Wales, and clearly they have a significant role to play to contribute to the regional skills partnerships, and them operating at a sub-regional level is also very important in the dimension and needs, if you like, in terms of demand.

You agree.

So, it seems that there is a limitation on data on employer engagement, and we all know that skills are changing rapidly as we speak. So, is it realistic that you can be fleet of foot enough to meet those particular challenges?

If I can maybe start on that, and then I’m sure that Sian and other colleagues would like to come in too.

I think it’s very difficult. I think there's always going to be a difference, time lag, with data and then linking into—whether it’s the academic year—the needs of business. But I must say, in terms of, again, the working relationship the FE colleges, certainly from a north Wales perspective, that has actually worked very well, where they have been fleet of foot, to be fair, and I can talk about that specifically from a Horizon Nuclear Power basis and the needs of that particular Wylfa Newydd project and how the colleges have reacted very positively and, to be fair to them, fleet of foot. But, I'd find it quite difficult, to be honest with you, to explain what other way there would be, because the data that we use comes out when it comes out. We have to respond to Welsh Government timetables, and then, of course, the academic year. So, I wouldn't have the answer to actually say how that could be any different. I don't know if Sian, others, might want to say.

No, I agree. In a way, really, as an RSP, we are able to identify the broader action of where the skills demand is. But more specialist skills—probably, it’s down to the industry themselves; they are not entirely sure all the time what they require as specialist skills as well. So, we've got, as Sasha mentioned, some examples of Horizon going directly towards FE for those specialist skills. So, in terms of broad direction, yes, we can give that broad direction in terms of skills, and we are in constant conversations with other national bodies who hold that data as well, so we ensure that we do have the right data.


What we've been doing is we've grown the number of the cluster groups and the employer engagement that we do across all sectors, and that's been invaluable, really, to the access to data from employers direct, both the SMEs that we have quite a lot of in south-west and mid Wales, but also the larger national companies who operate. But also we've been commissioned to do specific pieces of work around projects. We did a comprehensive piece of work around skills requirements for the tidal lagoon in Swansea, for example. There, we were speaking to the colleges and the training providers to see how we could influence the delivery of these fairly immediately if the project was to have the go ahead. That was just an example of something that we did to respond to something immediately.

There is a focus now on higher level qualifications, but at the same time there is a growing demand, potentially, around the corner, for lower level skills. So, how is that going to be provided for? Because the warnings are out, there's a focus also in Government about the foundational economy, so how do you think that's going to be managed and what part will you play in that?

We haven't got time for all to answer, because we're short on time, but I think Sian—were you indicating you wanted to take that?

Yes, I'll answer that. The steer we get is from Welsh Government. They're pushing higher level skills and qualifications. So, it is within their—. They're pushing us towards that way. But, whilst we completely understand that, because higher skills does mean an increase in GVA, we do know that—. Well, the feedback we're getting back from FE quite regularly is that you can't actually get somebody in on level 3 straight away from school. In some instances, you have to have that progression, and we really do understand that and we recognise that. There have been probably, it's fair to say—I don't know if Jane would probably agree with me as well—there have been some tensions there in terms of Welsh Government's policy and what happens in terms of health and social care, in particular for us, because we have as a region identified level 2 apprenticeships in health and social care, but because Welsh Government's non-priority directive says that we're not allowed to, they can't—FE and work-based learning can't then respond to what we're saying is a regional priority.

There we are. For the record, Jane was nodding at that point. There we are. Joyce Watson.

Thanks. You create quite a rosy picture of the work that you do, but, from the evidence that we've had, there seems to be quite a lot of confusion as to what some of the regional skills partnerships do. There seems to be a variance in their effectiveness. Coleg Llandrillo say the partnership has not identified any provision that the two FE institutions have not been able to provide, or the requirements for any new provision in the area, and also that there haven't been appropriate links with businesses to identify regional skills. What do you identify yourselves as the weaknesses that you would need to improve, either based on your experiences or based on the Graystone review, that you can implement so that people can perhaps have more faith in the structures that you exist within?

I'll, Chair, if I may, start on that—I'm sure other colleagues will definitely come in. In particular in terms of the private sector engagement, and we've flagged this up in our own written evidence to yourselves, we do need to improve in our private sector engagement. We now have a private sector engagement framework that we are developing. Certainly, in terms of again the links with both Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and Coleg Cambria in north-east Wales, both of those FE colleges have got excellent links with larger scale businesses in particular, so I think we need to develop further that relationship. We do meet with both the CEOs regularly. We need to make sure that that is continued. I think there needs to be a more robust representation from the SME sector. It's probably easier for bigger business, whether it's Airbus or the likes of the nuclear sector or some of the other bigger engineering companies across the region, to put time into something like a regional skills partnership, but I think there needs to be more robust representation from the smaller business sector—maybe changing the times that we meet, not necessarily in the day; you know, it's a big pull, in particular, on a small company's time. So, we recognise that there needs to be improvement in terms of engagement. I think we've been very honest. I wouldn't say that it’s necessarily a rosy picture that we've been painting from a north Wales basis. But, with actually quite limited resources, I think we do a pretty good job, but there's always room for improvement. So, I don't know if other colleagues want to come in on that.   


The only thing I'd say is about the data that we have. I agree that there are—. We've all got weaknesses, but one of our strengths has always been the employer engagement that we have got, from the SME level all the way through to the national companies. That has enabled us to work closer. We have close working relationships with the FE colleges. They sit around the table in our provider group cluster group. They sit around the table on the board. And they have an equal voice. When we're planning both the employment and skills plan and the template, everyone is around the table, having a discussion, looking at the evidence, looking at the data we're provided with and what the FE colleges are also using. They use a system called EMSI, and this was a system that the three RSPs were due to be having from the Welsh Government as part of a whole-Wales package. That hasn't happened yet, so I feel that that is a weakness that we have, that we don't always have exactly the same economic data that the colleges are using to do some of their own planning.

But this was the issue that I had as an outsider to this—if we are basing economic plans by Welsh Government on priorities set by you, when evidence shows us that it is sometimes very difficult to get hold of your plans, and it's very difficult to understand the consistency between the analysis that each regional board makes, how can we then have a plan based on the potential needs of the nation if there are disparities across what the regional skills partnerships are providing? 

I think, prior to the Graystone review, I probably would agree with you that there was some disparity in the way that the plans were put together. But there has been more cohesion in the last two years, bringing the data, the same data sets, the same way of gathering—we use the same survey—and that has built the momentum. But when we are physically writing the plan—not doing the template, now, but when we're physically writing the plan—we will have different priorities in our regions, and we will write the plans in different ways. But all of us have published the plans. We publish the plans when the Welsh Government allows us to publish them, and they are put on the websites—our websites, and they're put on Welsh Government sites—and they are freely available. But we also work with all of the partners that we have around the table as well. 

I think, just as a starting point, skills—it's such a huge, huge agenda. So, whilst a positive, as I said, is that the south-east Wales board is very inclusive—. It is a big board, it is very much led by industry and fed by what industry needs. But I think that one of the areas—and this alludes to an earlier question—is the speed at which the RSPs can respond, and also funding bodies, funding institutions, can then respond to identified need, so in terms of colleges and how they respond quickly to the needs that are identified. Data is certainly an issue that we are experiencing as well, in terms of the lag of data coming forward, and I think also the planning cycles—one-year plans. I think a key milestone has been the feedback from Welsh Government on the plans. I think that, alongside the Graystone review, will assist in driving forward some consistency across Wales, because I think that has been something that has been acknowledged as a weakness.

Do you know who you are accountable to? Because that was what I was confused with, in terms of the contract element, whether you were accountable to the local authority or accountable directly to the Welsh Government. Is that something that you're all clear about? Because perhaps there's a communication thing, rather than the quality of the work.


The contract, as far as I'm concerned, is with the Welsh Government. That's who we report to.

And my last question on this section is: you mentioned the colleges quite a lot, do you think that the further education colleges would be better placed to do this work than the concept of a regional skills partnership? Obviously, I know you have vested interests, so, that may skew your answer, but if you're saying that, sometimes, the FE colleges can come up with data faster and can react faster, would we, potentially, need these types of partnerships in the future?

Certainly, in my view, from not just a north Wales perspective, but I think, if that were the case, wouldn't that be a potential conflict of interest? Because you've got the provider leading, and I think that may be difficult. So, in terms of that aspect—

I'm not saying they would, but there could be a perception of that. I'm sure, from a north Wales perspective, they wouldn't, but, nevertheless, in terms of strict governance and transparency, I wouldn't, personally, recommend that. They have a key role to play, as they do, certainly in the north Wales context, but to actually lead the work—. That's why, I think, as was mentioned earlier by colleagues and myself, that the RSP—it's an independent partnership, cross-sector. I think that is a key strength and, ideally, to be independently chaired by the private sector if that's possible.

Okay, and all the panel members were nodding in agreement with Sasha's point as well. Did you want to come in, Beverly?

Just to say, probably, I've got the least vested interest in terms of the partnership because I sit within a local authority that has an enabling role at a local level and also works as part of the region, and I would just echo what Sasha has said. This is not doing any injustice to our FE partners—they do very a very good job on the ground, but they're the providers of what should be demand-led skills development.

Okay. Thank you. Vikki, did you want to come in now? Or, I can come to David and I'll come back to you.

David Rowlands, and then I'll come back to Vikki. David Rowlands.

I suppose, one of the fundamental things for you to facilitate is the creation of skills that are much more aligned to business needs as such, so how are the partnerships contributing towards improving the skills offer to learners and making learners more employable? Can you tell us how you take this into account when making your recommendations?

Again, going back to the feedback from employers, understanding what employers are looking for, and it's not just about the higher level skills—it's the lower level skills as well, bringing the need in and developing young people.

Within the RSP in south-west and mid Wales, we work with a number of partners, not just the training providers, but with Careers Wales, the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus. We have an employability group, so we bring together all of the employability projects that are operating in our region so that we can get the message out there about what skills are required for the jobs that are going to be available across the region, not just now, but in the future, in the hope that we can look at everybody. So, whether it's an individual who's perhaps in school and struggling, and looking at vocational training—how can we influence within the school agenda, for example? How we can look at bringing more vocational training into school to stop the not-in-education-employment-or-training problem that we've got by looking at more employability?

One of the biggest areas that our plan has identified from employers is that people are not work-ready. Now, how can we address that to look at opportunities with businesses for work experience, having that whole experience of what it is like to go to work? Unfortunately, we don't have as many Saturday jobs as we used to years ago, so, some people perhaps aren't are accessing these jobs as early as perhaps they were years ago.

So, do we have a problem there? We're trying to work as a partnership, with all of these partners, to try and address these issues. And I'm sure that all of us are doing the same.

So, to what extent do you consider or take a view on the actual content, outcomes and quality of programmes when compiling the regional planning and funding templates? Is there a method of you having feedback that tells you whether those programmes are correct?


Yes. Again, from employers, there are some really clear examples of where some of the programmes perhaps aren't meeting the needs of employers. Digital is one of those areas, and some engineering programmes aren't really meeting the needs of the employers. We need to be looking at how can we adapt those courses in order to bring them up to current-day standards. So, that is part of the work that we do as the skills partnerships, but when we're looking at developing the templates that we submit to Welsh Government, we not only look at what provision we need and where there's perhaps over-provision, we look at what's being delivered, what's available, and then what's required, but then there's quite a lot of over-provision in some areas. I hasten to say this, but it is an area where we've all identified—. So, if you look at hairdressing and sport and leisure, they are two areas where there's an over-provision, and we can't really put our hands on our hearts and say that people who are on those courses are actually going into jobs in those areas. So, do we need to be looking at—? Health and social care: we've all identified that as a key area of growth and there will be high demand, so we need to be looking at how can we put those as more favourable—

So, is there a mechanism for you to be able to alter that, for you to be aligned, through your recommendations and your templates?

And are colleges then taking that up? That's the important thing, isn't it?

Well, these are the recommendations that we put to Welsh Government—as a partnership; we don't do it and don't talk to our partners in the FE college and work-based learning—but those recommendations go in, and then they influence how Welsh Government funding is allocated to the colleges.

Okay, but as Sian says, there's a difficulty, because there's a mismatch between what the Welsh Government is telling you to do with regard to the skills, they want to increase the skills—level 3, level 4, level 5—and yet you find that the industry is actually asking for level 2 and level 1. Is that it? How can you square that?

Well, just going on our own recommendations last year, there was an increased provision in all of those areas made in our templates last year. We're now getting data—. Because, obviously, we're writing the plans this year, but they don't get implemented until a year the following September. But we've started getting data through now of changes that were implemented as a result of recommendations made in the 2016 plan. So, we are making changes—

Do you think that you are able to influence the Government in changing perhaps their policies on these skills levels?

I agree with the policy around pushing the higher level skills, but we have to get the lower level skills right first, because if you don't have the lower level skills, you can't progress everybody to have that opportunity to go to the higher level. I think that's what we're trying to do through these plans, and we have to have those lower level skills in order to drive that change.

Right, okay. Just looking at the higher skills graduates and that, is there a mechanism for a business to be able to come back to you and say, 'Look, the qualifications may be quite good, but they're not matched with what we need'? I'm talking about graduate qualifications. Do you get that feedback? Are you able to work on it?

Is there another panel member that wants to take that point? Sasha Davies.

If I can come in on that point, certainly, from a north Wales perspective, there isn't a formal mechanism, but what we do have, clearly, is through the private sector representatives around table—. So, via that mechanism and clearly from the discussions that we have, with an active working relationship with the FE and HE sectors to influence both plan development and the respective templates—. But maybe that's something that could be improved upon to have a more, if you like, defined mechanism to actually do that.

Thank you, Chair. The original planning and funding templates are not in the public domain; you said that you send them in to Welsh Government. You've covered some of the key points that you put in there. Is there anything else that you feel we should know about what you've included in there?

No, I can honestly say they're probably the most confusing pieces of paper, and really, if we published them as a stand-alone document, I don't think they would make any sense to anybody else. The only other information we do report on within there—but that information's also contained within the plan—is about how we're working with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the regional engagement links that we have within the region, and the Welsh language. But all of that written content is actually included in the written plan—


Bearing that in mind, then, do you think that the planning and funding templates are actually the most appropriate tool to ensure that skills provision mirrors demand? Are there any limitations? Could there be a more effective mechanism to use?

—answer the detail, as we were saying, because we've just taken over the hosting role quite recently, but as Jane alluded to, they're not the easiest-to-read documents, and I think, certainly, the 360 degree feedback that the RSPs are starting to receive from Welsh Government is assisting in improving those submissions. The RSP plans themselves, obviously, which are published—they are probably the best mechanism that we have currently. Is there room for improvement? Yes, there always is. And, you know, perhaps that's where further dialogue could be held with Welsh Government to improve on the funding templates in terms of summaries, et cetera.

If I could just come back on that—

I suppose the one thing about the templates is, up until now, they have been cost neutral, and that's been an issue when you're trying to look at provision and developing provision, where you know you need to increase it by quite a significant number but you've always got to look at the bottom line being a zero. I know that's been looked at now for the new funding template, but it is the only resource we've got available at the moment and it is the best one. I'm not saying it's the best that we could do, but that's what we've got to work with at the moment.

Okay. One final question from me: we hear a lot on this committee about the employers really wanting more bespoke, flexible and shorter training programmes for their employees. Are you able to make any recommendations on this?

Sorry, if I could come in again. The last Minister for skills, Eluned Morgan, actually set aside £10 million for an SDF programme—

Skills development fund, apparently. That fund was specifically to look at bespoke courses that had been identified through the skills partnerships to deliver on the ground. Now, they would be short courses that would suit businesses, again, looking at how those courses were being delivered as well, because that's one of the things that we get from the rural areas: people can't afford the time to travel long distances to go to colleges. So, it's how they could be using more digital facilities to develop courses. So, this is what they've been looking at through some of the skills development fund.

Well, I know some of us—the colleges are delivering some of that now. Hopefully, by the time we'll be writing up the plan for this year, we'll have some evidence of what's being delivered and then by the time we're writing the 2020 plan, there will be evidence then coming through from Welsh Government through the normal resources.

So, within those plans, and meeting the needs that you've identified, do you look at the gender involvement—how many male or female are going into different sectors?

Sorry. Through our employer engagement survey, which the other two partners are running this year as well, we do ask the question about the breakdown in employment, but we don't have any data at the present time around the number going into colleges for specific courses. But that's another area where we want to gather more information that becomes available to us from Welsh Government and from our partner FE colleges about who's doing the courses and how can we—. For example, there's some really good practice of getting women into construction, women into engineering. So, there are some very good examples of projects already running between FE colleges and specific industries, and we are part of that whole programme and we work very closely with them.


I just wanted to ask about the funding templates, really, because that's something that I'm not understanding. You’re saying that it’s really opaque and quite difficult, and that you’re in conversations with Welsh Government to change that. I find it really difficult to assess, because, obviously, we can’t see them. So, in the plans—are the plans the simplified version of the templates, or do you think that there is a way that we can analyse the templates, or see them, to know where the plans are going or if they're going in the correct way? Because, on a scrutiny level, I’m finding it a bit difficult to understand what you’re saying, because we haven’t seen them, and you're saying they’re difficult and need to change, but it’s not something we’re party to.

They're complex to look at, because, if I describe the template to you, you’re looking at the provision. So, for example, if we wanted to use level 2 health and social care, and we said we wanted to increase level 2 health and social care delivery in FE provision, what we would do is show an increase on the template. And, up until this year, we would then—. So, say we wanted to increase it to 100 more places across the four colleges in my own region, and, if I use a fictitious figure, say that cost £100,000, well, then, in order for me to get a zero figure at the bottom without changing anything else, I’d have to cut it from somewhere else. So, then I’d have to show on the plan what I’m getting it from. So, say I was taking it from hairdressing. Now, the difficulty is that some of these courses have also got different costs. So, you could have health and social care, which, say, is £5,000 per student, whereas engineering could be as much as £9,000. Well, we need more engineers, but in order to get the 100 extra engineering places, I would have to severely cut the provision in other areas. And we don’t want to cut the provision, but because, up until now, we’ve had to be cost neutral, that was how we had to do it. But the other way we could also do it was to move them into apprenticeship provision, and that is where industry wants to move some of these areas. So, for health and social care, for example level 2, they want to move that into the apprenticeship provision, and that's less money.

I think it would be helpful, so we’re not spending the time here, if you could send us a note on explaining it and how that informs the plan and what you would like to change, so that we can be as effective as we can.

So, Jane, you say you don’t want us to cut capacity, but you were saying earlier that there’s far too much capacity in, for instance, hairdressing and leisure. Why are we paying for so many people to do these courses?

Well, you know, we're only looking at the destination data that we've got the moment, and it’s not showing that everybody’s going into a job in that subject area. We trawl, looking at where there are jobs available, and it sounds as if I’m particularly pointing at those two areas, but it’s just two areas where, if you looked at the figures for the whole of Wales, there’s a lot of provision in those two specific areas of training. And whilst, yes, people want to go into those, we’ve got to also look at how we can adapt that provision to meet our own economic needs, what the jobs are that we have available that we can’t fill because we've got no people with those skills. You know, construction, for example. I know that if you wanted to go into hairdressing, you’re not likely to go into construction, but there are so many other jobs in construction that perhaps people aren’t aware of that they could actually develop their skills to go into that area.

Why wouldn’t people who might otherwise go into hairdressing consider construction?

Well, I think the fundamental—. One of my points, later on in one of the questions, is around how we can influence some of the career choices that are made in schools. And we don’t have a remit to have that input at the moment, and I think that would be really important for us.

I was about to ask about that, actually. How would you potentially see your role extending, and perhaps some of the other panellists, coming into the schools and universities?

Mark, I think Beverley wanted to come in, and then Sasha. Beverley, and then Sasha.

I think that balance between learner choice and industry need is one of the biggest challenges that we’ve got, not just for the RSPs , but for skills in Wales in totality. It’s certainly something that the south-east Wales RSP and the Cardiff capital region, even at a cabinet level, are conscious of and are dealing with, but it’s not going to be a quick win. It is, I think, as Jane mentioned, about awareness raising, it is about trying to reach out into schools and other areas that young people occupy to educate and try and raise awareness of the job opportunities that do exist—the highly paid job opportunities that exist—so that we do try to start influencing skills provision that meets industry need but also does become a learner choice. Because I think at this point—you know, some of the experience we've had is that there isn't an awareness of the jobs that exist. I come back to the compound semis industry, but some individuals are coming out and can be accessing £40,000, £50,000 jobs within months of being trained and not necessarily through HE provision; it could be FE or other alternatives. So, we are certainly aware of it. It's very high on our agenda. The cluster groups are working on it, and we're also looking at foundation and academy models as well to try and make sure that industry needs are met whilst generating that learner enthusiasm, rather than something that may look an attractive option to go and learn within but perhaps is not as attractive as other opportunities could be.


Yes, thank you, I do. In terms of pre-16, I think this is where the RSPs—where we are at the moment in terms of our remit and where we are missing a trick. It's just not an area that we do go into. I think in terms of using and working with the partners around the table and particularly the employers, it could be a key area for development in terms of pre-16. And it goes back to the employability point, really, and making sure that young people, starting at primary age right through to secondary, have those employability skills as well as raising awareness of the potential for science, technology, engineering and maths. For example, as for Horizon, we undertook a very substantive primary and secondary school STEM engagement programme. That's just an example. The same could be done—and we were going to start on that in terms of working with the supply chain on the construction sector, and again making sure that, at an early age, the breadth of the construction sector is understood for both boys and girls coming through the sector. Because of the breadth of it, it's not just about getting your hands dirty; there are all sorts of roles that can be undertaken.

Jane said before that it is a problem that some of the part-time jobs—for instance, Saturday jobs—had declined and they'd like to see more opportunities there. Do you agree with that, and what sort of age group and what type of jobs would most help in terms of supporting the skills development agenda?

I think we touched a little earlier on the foundation economy and the importance of that. In north Wales, we've got the key sectors through the RSP that we focus on in terms of construction, energy and advanced manufacturing. And in terms of the broader, if you like, link into the Saturday job aspect, holiday job aspect—it's clearly linked to the foundation economy, tourism and hospitality and the growth of that area, certainly from a north Wales perspective. And, actually, the perception that those jobs are just low-paid—certainly not, particularly in north-west Wales; that's a real growth in terms of the quality of the jobs, linked through the businesses that are developing at quite a pace there, particularly in terms of adventure tourism.

We've undertaken, through the regional skills partnership in north Wales, a pilot looking at basically going into, and we actually have gone into, both the schools and pre-16 sector to raise awareness of the potential of tourism and hospitality and actually inspiring more to get involved with that—that it's not just a low-paid sector.

Thank you. Finally from me, I wonder if I can ask Beverly: the Cardiff city deal—I understand the cabinet considered a paper on wanting to bring together the Welsh Government and the city deal work streams. I just wonder how that's developing.

Okay. So, in terms of the regional skills partnership and what was probably the former Cardiff capital region employability skills board, as I mentioned earlier, they're one and the same thing. So, in terms of skills, it's very well aligned. So, the chair of the RSP/ESB sits on the regional economic growth partnership. So, there's clarity in terms of our contractual role for Welsh Government, but we're all on the same page in terms of the agenda we're trying to deliver across the region for skills. 


I've got two quick questions from David and Joyce. David, do you want to ask yours and Joyce straight after?

Yes. You've mentioned that your remit doesn't cover schools, and we can quite understand that. So, what's your relationship with Careers Wales, whose remit is schools, and, obviously, that's where we ought to be catching the students, isn't it, and influencing their career paths? So, what sort of relationship do you have with Careers Wales?

From a north Wales perspective, a very good one. Gyrfa Cymru, Careers Wales, are a key member around the table with us.

Finally, you mentioned you're going to be working with the construction sector—and I'm founding member and chair of the all-party group—so, how are you going to work with the Construction Industry Training Board on this, who also have a very clear remit?

I can give an example in terms of the CITB—again, in terms of developing the construction potential we work with, and in terms of the data analysis; I have some very good data that we use as well. So, it's really developing the needs of the sector, looking ahead, both in terms of strategy, through the Welsh Government, and also in terms of, again, the strategy through the construction sector—the construction businesses themselves—and what their needs are. So, that's what we're doing: talking to both, if you like—the policy makers but also the actual construction sector themselves as well as their representative bodies.

I'm a bit—sorry, Chair—I'm a bit confused because I thought that was the role of CITB. What I'm struggling with here, because I know this area really well, is where you're going to fit in. Because I thought that was their role.

Clearly, they are the lead organisation, as you understand probably better than anybody. In terms of taking forward the construction sector, what I'm saying is that we, as a key partner, have and will continue to work with them closely, as long as the construction sector is a priority sector for north Wales. We are very dependent on them, and there's a good working relationship.

Hoffwn i ofyn yn Gymraeg, os gwelwch yn dda, Cadeirydd. Hoffwn i ofyn beth fydd eich perthynas â'r Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol yn y dyfodol?

I'd like to ask in Welsh, please, Chair. I'd like to ask what your future relationship with Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol will be in the future?

Diolch. Rŷn ni wedi bod yn gweithio gyda’r coleg dros y flwyddyn ddiwethaf ynglŷn â beth rŷn ni’n ysgrifennu yn y ddogfen rŷn ni’n ei hanfon i’r Llywodraeth bob blwyddyn a hefyd yn y gwaith rŷn ni’n ei wneud gyda'r bobl sy’n employers yn ein hardal ni. Rŷn ni’n cael gwybodaeth yn ôl wrthyn nhw trwy’r survey a thrwy’r gwaith rŷn ni’n ei wneud rownd y ford ynglŷn â beth mae’r iaith Gymraeg yn meddwl yn eu busnes nhw, ac os oes rhyw broblemau i gael ynglŷn â’r iaith Gymraeg ac fel rŷn ni’n gallu helpu ynglŷn â sgiliau.

Os gallaf ddefnyddio un enghraifft: gweithio yn health and social care, mae angen inni gael mwy o bobl trwy’r system yna i siarad Cymraeg fel eu bod yn gallu mynd allan i weithio gyda phobl yn eu tai eu hunain. Ond mae problemau i gael y bobl hyn ar hyn o bryd, so mae’r gwaith yn cadw i fynd. Ond rŷn ni wedi ysgrifennu dogfen tair blynedd yn ôl amboutu’r gwaith yn yr iaith Gymraeg, ac rŷn ni’n mynd i edrych ar hynny eto yn ystod y flwyddyn nesaf.

Thank you. We have been working with the coleg over the past year regarding what we write in the document that we send to the Government each year and also in the work that we are doing with the employers in our area. We do get information back from them through the survey and through the work that we do around the table regarding what the Welsh language means to their business, and if there are any problems existing regarding the Welsh language and how we could help with skills.

And just to use one example: working in health and social care, we need more people through that system speaking Welsh so that they can go out to work with people in their own homes. But there is a problem to get these people currently, so the work is ongoing. But we did write a document three years ago about the work regarding the Welsh language, and we will be looking at that again during the next year.

So, what about partnerships? Are they strong and working with the coleg cenedlaethol?

Yes. We work with them and they had an input into the actual survey that we've got, actually working with employers now. So, we do do that.

So, the coleg cenedlaethol is developing into—am I right in understanding this—it's developing into the FE sector?

Well, from my understanding, in the workshops that were held last year, when they were looking at how they were developing their action plan moving forward, there was a cross-sector working in FE and HE sitting around that table as to how this could be progressed further. The RSPs are included within that action plan as a deliverable partner, so that was what we've been doing. And I know north Wales have been doing a specific piece of work.

Yes. We commissioned a big piece of work last year about the Welsh language in the workplace. We brought together all the data in north Wales, so we've got an action plan as part of that now to take that forward. Obviously, Coleg Cenedlaethol has a key role to play in that, but also Welsh Government; they have a specific Welsh language in education department, so we're working really closely with them on that at the moment.


There are concerns in the written consultation that the south-west and mid Wales partnership covered too large and varied an area of Wales. Do you agree with this, and what impact does it have on your ability to identify skills needs in mid Wales?

Yes. I agree it is a big area, but I think, looking at the work that we do there, we have a very good relationship with employers across our whole region, and we have excellent communications with businesses in both Ceredigion and Powys that make up the mid Wales sector. But in moving forward, I think—. The work that we do is looking at skills across the region. Perhaps it goes back to your earlier question about whether skills should be done on a regional level or at a local level. We've been doing this work across this whole region for 10 years, and we are gathering a lot of data. The issue that's been raised is around the rurality, perhaps, of the mid Wales region compared to the south-west. But there are rural areas in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire that have exactly the same issues as we have in Powys, and I think what we're doing is making that voice for the rural areas of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire as pertinent to the voice of the mid Wales rural area as well.

You don't think there would be need for a separate mid Wales skills partnership because of the sparsity of the area, because you think it would be reflected in the work that you currently do. Is there a demand for a separate mid Wales skills partnership?

Well, I know there is a demand, but that's driven by the partnership in mid Wales. Personally, no; I think that we can do the work, and last year was an example. We actually wrote a specific plan for mid Wales on the skills, we disaggregated, and we actually increased the provision in mid Wales to meet the needs of mid Wales because that was what was coming out of the feedback we'd had. That can be proven on the template that we've done. We are quite happy to continue to write that separate plan for mid Wales if that's what Welsh Government want us to do. But to have another completely separate partnership, I don't think would be beneficial, personally.

Just to clarify: I think they were Mark Reckless's comments, but I just wanted to clarify in relation to the powers or the areas that you have influence over. Would you want to see it extended not only to schools but to HE, to work-based learning, to all those areas, and would you want to see the skills partnerships have more powers or more independence of thought and processes in the future, just so that we understand what you actually want from this set-up? Because it seems to me that you're trying to do some work, but resources and—well, resources more than anything, I think—and certain structures are frustrating that process. So, ultimately, what type of—? In a short answer, what type of model would be your desire for the future?

Unless we had additional resources as regional skills partnerships, I think it would be very difficult to request us to do different and additional things. For example, as you've heard, certainly pre 16 in schools, we think we can play a significant role within that with other partners, but you've got to have additional resource to do that effectively. Otherwise, the Welsh Government should be prioritising what they want us to focus on.

I agree with the schools, but I also agree with influencing HE. The resources are really important, but it's actually having a clear vision of what is expected of us from Welsh Government. We know what needs to be done on the ground, but it's having that put down, basically, in a contract, that this is what we want to achieve.

Because, at the moment, for example, you might not have the influence that you'd like on higher level apprenticeships. Is that correct? 

You can have an opinion—. You don't even have an opinion on it.

We have an opinion, but not the influence. And, of course, we have one-year contracts, which are really difficult to manage when you're looking at—. You know, just looking at the employment of staff in particular, it's an annual contract. We know that we're going to get a contract, because they tell us they want another plan, but the issue is about the continuity and having a longer period of plan instead of an annual plan—having a three-year plan. That would be my ideal world.


Well, I was going to ask, if I can, Beverly, putting aside resources, what do you think should be the role of the partnerships going forward? Put aside the resource issue for a moment.

It comes back to some of the earlier discussions about transparency and that kind of enabling role on behalf of industry, which doesn't have a vested interest, if you like, in terms of how skills provision is delivered. I think we've mentioned issues in terms of data—data's crucial to us. And the role of Welsh Government is key. Words directly from the chair: he's asked me to mention that the role of Welsh Government is key and that this September is a big milestone in terms of the feedback from Welsh Government. I think what he is saying is that if Welsh Government fails to deliver feedback on the regional skills plan, then there is an issue, potentially, for private sector and industry disengaging from the process. So, lots of positives. The RSP, certainly in south-east Wales has matured, but it's now about taking it to the next level.

Yes, okay. As we draw this session to an end, what I'm trying to draw out is what you think should be the role of RSPs. What's your opinion? What do you think you should be doing in the future, and how are you going to achieve that? Putting aside, perhaps, the resource issue for a moment.

I think, certainly—I don't want to be repeating myself—we're comfortable with the remit from Welsh Government, but we think that there should be more undertaken, as I said, through the schools and, as you mentioned, Jane, on the HE side as well. I think also, importantly, the linkage and close working relationship that there needs to be between the Welsh Government's regionalisation agenda as well, and the development of the regional strategies and plans under the Minister, Ken Skates. So, again, there needs to be absolutely hand-in-glove between the skills dimension and clearly the regional economic plans as well.

So, am I right in thinking that you all want to see the remit of the skills partnerships cover schools and universities? Yes. Okay, are there any other comments you want to add before we finish the session, that weren't drawn out in any questions today?

I'd like to thank you very much for the opportunity.

No, we're very grateful for your time. This was very helpful to us as a first introductory session. So, we greatly appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much. We'll take a 10-minute break and be back at 10:50.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:38 a 10:51.

The meeting adjourned between 10:38 and 10:51.

4. Partneriaeth Sgiliau Rhanbarthol: Addysg Bellach
4. Regional Skills Partnerships: Further Education

I move to item 4. This is our second session with regard to our inquiry on regional skills partnerships. Before us we have a panel of experts with regard to further education. Perhaps if I could ask the panel to introduce themselves for the public record, and if I start from my left. 

Bore da, good morning. David Jones, prif weithredwr, chief executive, Coleg Cambria.

Bore da, good morning. I'm Guy Lacey, I'm the chief executive and principal of Coleg Gwent. 

I'm Rachel Bowen. I'm director of policy and development at ColegauCymru CollegesWales. 

Good morning. I'm Mark Jones, I'm the principal of Gower College Swansea. 

Lovely. Thank you for attending committee this morning. In terms of aligning skills provision with the demands of the economy, are regional skills partnerships the right model to do that?

I think the model is one of the possible models. Whether it is completely the right model or not, I think it's a bit more nuanced than that. I think there are some problems for regional skills partnerships in terms of scale, and I think that there is an underlying difficulty about the complexity of tracking and monitoring trends in skills and where skills gaps are, and what skills are needed for the economy.

The particular regional skills partnership that I'm part of is a large partnership that is covering 10 local authority areas and the best part of 50 per cent of the Welsh economy. So, I think there is inevitably a dialogue and an analysis of skills needs that sits at that large, regional level, which sometimes then misses out subtleties of regional needs that sit at a sub-regional level. So, the example I would give is, if you look at the headline priority skills sectors for the south-east Wales region, which are around advanced manufacturing, engineering, digital, construction, and so on, if you take a sub-area like, for example, Monmouthshire, you'll see that the regional priorities don't really fit for what is an area that is predominantly agricultural and is predominantly trying to grow businesses in areas like food production, tourism and so on. 

I agree entirely. I think it plays a role. I don't think it's the solution on its own. I think, as colleges, we have access to lots of other information that we try to build in, and clearly the issue with the regional demand and supply plan that we do at the moment, which I think in theory is a really good idea, clearly at the moment is just focused on further education and work-based learning, and it needs to really pull in school sixth-forms, it needs to pull in A-levels, it needs to pull in some areas of HE as well. So, the RSPs can do some of the job, but they can't do it on their own. They need others to help as well.

And let's have a look at Rachel Bowen as well. To what extent does the regional level—is that the right approach for assessing the skills needs?

I think there's never going to be complete consensus around which models work best, and, if we talk about a regional level, at the moment we've got three different regions in terms of RSPs, but, in other areas of Wales, we've got 22 local authorities, seven health boards. We don't have agreement over what the best regional approach is. Within the regions we've got, there are obviously differences, as has already been pointed out, between those rural areas and those urban areas. I think that a regional approach is useful, rather than trying to do everything at a national level, but there are always going to be tensions over where we draw those regional boundaries, as we've seen earlier in the discussions over whether mid Wales should be a separate region, for instance.   


I think that there's no point in ripping up what we've got unnecessarily unless we have an evidence base to show that we have something better. 

It's like anything—if you're trying to achieve something, the starting point is to be very clear about what you're trying to achieve, what the objectives are. I think, previously, there was a big lack of making sure that the huge amount of money that the Welsh Government spend on FE and work-based learning was genuinely spent to match local needs. So, in that sense, I personally—and I know colleagues in Coleg Cambria and across north Wales in Grŵp Llandrillo Menai—fully support the idea of having regional planning, so you get more informed and hopefully better spend of money. I think there needs to be more clarity about what we're trying to achieve in doing so and, certainly, in the responses that you've received from the colleges in the region of ColegauCymru, I think we've set out some concerns about a whole range of issues around the way that the RSPs work in practice. But I think we're all supportive of the concept of having some form of regional planning. That does seem to make sense. But you can always have the argument about how many regions you should have and what shape they should be. 

And it seems to me one of the issues we're grappling with is aligning provision with demand, and this is the tension, I guess, especially with getting that data from companies and employers in terms of what you need. Any other opening comments at all around that issue at all? 

I think the specific issue of understanding what the demand is is a particularly complex area because, of course, it's ever changing and ever moving. And the sophistication of the information that we have, and which RSPs have, isn't necessarily going to be vital enough and swift enough to clearly set priorities. If I give you an example, I think all of the colleges now are using an LMI database called EMSI. If you look at Newport as a city, and you look at the active job vacancies and you look at the skills gaps that employers are reporting, the sectors that are top of the list in terms of the greatest quantity of available jobs are in areas like care—social care, child care—food preparation and food service. Those largely sit outside of what is currently identified by the RSP as being the skills drivers that the colleges in south-east Wales should be responding to.  

There's also a tension in terms of looking at what skills gaps we have now and trying to anticipate skills needs in the future. I think Iestyn sent me an e-mail about Henry Ford—that's Iestyn Davies, chief exec of ColegauCymru. So, an e-mail saying about Henry Ford, if people had asked—. He said if people had asked him what they wanted in 1900, they'd have said faster, more powerful horses and, actually, what they really needed and ended up with was a motor car. So, there's a tension between people being so absorbed in what we need now, what we need right this minute in 2019, and what we're actually going to need in a few years' time. So, I know there's some work going on with Professor Phil Brown at Cardiff University on a digital innovation review, which isn't just looking at digital skills but at the whole impact on the economy. We need to be careful about predicting and providing what we need now, and taking our eye off the ball in the future. And there's also some research from, I think, Professor Ewart Keep, who spoke last week at a meeting of the Phil Brown digital innovation review. They were saying that, sometimes, employers aren't always the best people to be predicting their future skills needs, and they don't always agree on what it is they want. For instance, to take an example like computer science, there are two completely opposing views from employers about what computer science should deliver, so we need to take those sorts of tensions into account when we're looking at skills planning.   

I think that example of the faster horses might make its way into our report. David Rowlands.


Thank you. I suppose this question rather cuts to the chase when we say: what should the future role of RSPs be and what output should they deliver?

Shall I take it? I think it goes back to the starting point that we need to be very clear about what we want the RSPs to achieve. My concern is that, at the moment, it seems to tick a box to say, 'Isn’t it all a lot better?', because we've got these organisations in place in the regions that are sort of ticking the box to say, 'Yes, this is a good plan'. In reality though—again, I think we've picked this up in our reports—if you look closely at the RSPs, if you look at their membership, it’s dominated by public sector education organisations—and we’re part of that here; we’re not knocking that for one minute—but, if you really want engagement with the private sector, I think Rachel makes a good point about longer term—because I think that’s what they should be doing, is looking longer term—then you need to get good quality engagement with real businesses from the private sector and not just also representatives of bodies who represent business as well. Because I think there are a lot of those sorts of people around who represent those bodies but aren't business people themselves. Get the right membership, clear objectives and then some consistency—recognising that there are regional differences, but get some consistency in the way you establish. And then be really clear about who can influence this, because, at the moment, obviously, for the three of us here—Guy, Mark and myself, as heads of colleges—it just feels like another gate that’s been put in our way to say, ‘Actually, from now on, you’ve got to put your plans, which you’ve always delivered yourselves in the past directly to the Welsh Government—you’ve now got to get an RSP to sign this off for you’, where you question the ability of the membership to do that. We do that. We have our own members, in most cases, on them, and what does that achieve? Not a lot, I don’t think.

And also the post-compulsory education and training sector is far more than FE and work-based learning—it’s universities, it’s sixth forms. So, if you’re genuinely looking and saying, ‘What’s the impact of the money that’s been spent, post-16, on the regional economy?’, I think you need to look a little bit further than that and maybe look longer term as well. Because the reality is that a lot of things that we deal with—not just on a day-to-day basis, but month-by-month, and, probably, on at least a one-to-two-year basis—are things that we just need to respond to. So, it’s a bit daft really if we get an RSP plan saying, ‘Sorry, north Wales, you only need 16 hairdressers this year’, because, at the end of the day, if 30 people want to do hairdressing, we’re going to give them a place. Why? Because they’re young people and, alongside doing that course, they’re going to develop essential skills, digital skills and so on, and it would be totally inequitable to say, ‘Sorry, we’ve only got 16 places in north Wales for hairdressing’, when, in schools and the university sector, there are no quotas whatsoever on the type of courses and how many are put on them. So, it really needs a good look at.

So, they'll just go back to school and do A-levels is what they'll do. What they want is something that they can engage in at the age of 16 that maybe they haven't—something that they're going to enjoy. And David is absolutely right. You slide in the maths and the English right underneath it and, in two years' time, they blossom and maybe at that stage, with really good, strong careers advice, they go on to do the jobs that we need them to do. But, at 16 years of age, they haven't got a clue what they want to do, and the advice isn't strong.

Mark wanted to come in and then I'll come back to you, David. Mark.

The comparison with the university sector—if students are going and borrowing money that they to a degree may have to pay back for a course, then that at least gives them a balance of decision. I wonder here whether it may be better if 16-year-olds are going back and doing A-levels rather than doing hairdressing, if there is such overcapacity in the provision of hairdressing courses, as we learnt in our previous session. 

But why would we not accept that the transferrable skills that somebody learns on a hairdressing vocational course or a sports science vocational course are not the same as those that they would gain by doing A-levels?

They are transferrable. Not everybody who studies A-level chemistry is a chemist, not everybody who studies A-level geography is a geographer and not everybody who studies A-level history is a historian; not everybody who studies hair and beauty goes on to be a hairdresser. Those skills that you might learn in hairdressing, for instance—. I confess, I am not a natural redhead, so somebody has mixed chemicals, and it is quite a skilled ability to be able to do that to the right degree, has got customer service skills and interpersonal skills. Those things are completely transferrable in the same way as the chemistry A-level that I did. I don't see why we think that academic skills are the only ones that are transferrable and that you can't get that from a vocational education.


We've heard, time and time again, of the influence on the pathways that children take, or students take, with regard to where they’re going with their careers—that it comes down to schools so often. Now, you've called for the RSPs' remit to be extended to schools. Can we deal with that first? But, you’ve also called for it to be extended to universities.

On the schools, we heard in the last session, from a direct question from me, that they have excellent relations with Careers Wales. Now, how do you feel that that would work if their remit is to go into schools as well? Is this a duplication? Because it’s Careers Wales’s remit at this moment in time, isn’t it?

I suppose this is about being clear about the terms in which RSPs' engagement with schools would be undertaken. So, you're absolutely right; you wouldn't want duplication. You wouldn't want the same things happening that Careers Wales provides. But I think that it would be possible for there to be a complementary role, encouraging people to think more about the skills that are available locally. But others here may have additional views.

I think that the key for young people is that they need to have access to impartial advice and guidance of good quality. They need to be given impartial advice about where the jobs are, or where the jobs are likely to be, and they should be making informed choices about their future progression. I think that, all too often, in college, sadly, we see young people who haven't had those opportunities. So, I think the role that the—. Going back to the previous question, actually, about what should the output of the RSPs be ultimately, I’d say that it connects to that in the sense that we should have RSPs that are working at a high enough level to be scoping out that future need. I think, at the moment, there’s a tendency for the attention to be too immediate. So, it comes down to a discussion about whether or not we need 15 hairdressers in north Wales or not when, actually, I would argue that the RSPs need to raise their gaze a bit and start talking about how we're going to support the Welsh economy’s development within our region over a period of the next five years or more. So, I think that creates a different discussion. And, underpinning all of that, it has to be a healthy relationship in schools between children and the people who are advising them about future job opportunities and future careers.

Okay. Moving on to universities, obviously, they work internationally and they set their own curriculum content. So, it could be a situation where there's conflict here if the RSPs go in and try to influence what curriculum content there is. And that’s the only way that they can alter the career paths, isn’t it, or provision, necessarily.

Yes, but I think that part of the dimension there is: do we want our universities in Wales to be solely operating in a global market, or do we want our universities in Wales to be supporting the development of the Welsh economy? And I just think there's a place in this debate between RSPs and higher education about meeting regional need as well as meeting global need. Otherwise, we have universities that simply attract young people from elsewhere to come and live in Wales for three years, graduate and move away.

And I think that while, obviously, some universities do have a big international role—some universities have more international students than others—the latest statistics I could find on the HEFCW website were along the lines of: of students from Wales who go to university, about three quarters of them study in Wales. So, surely, we can be thinking about how we meet the needs of those 75 per cent of young people from Wales who are studying at Welsh universities. For some courses in some places, it will be higher than 75 per cent. Surely, we can do this better and in a more joined-up way. And just because universities work internationally in some respects, that doesn't mean that they're exempt from thinking about local communities—and, in fairness to universities, I think a lot of them are thinking about local communities.

Can I just add to that? Recently-published data—I think it’s from HESA, the statistical agency for HE—from 2013-14 to 2017-18, so, just a period of four years, shows that, in Wales, there’s been a reduction in medicine and dentistry of 21.7 per cent, engineering and technology 3.8 per cent, education 35.1 per cent. I think that’s pretty good evidence, really, why—.

I think universities are different. It’s not about—. We recognise that they have a different role, that they work across the UK and beyond, but I think it's too simple to say the universities are out of this because they're international, because for us to have a successful Welsh economy we need more engineers, we need more people into medicine—we know the issues we face, you certainly know in this place—and also, then, in education, we know the challenges there: 35.1 per cent fewer people doing education. We can't just let universities crack on and do their own thing—because ultimately there's public money going into universities; that's where it's coming from at the end of the day—and then just focus on some sort of regional economy-driven planning just on FE and work-based learning. It's flawed if you do it that way. 


There is a question there about provision of places for people like doctors and things like that, but we can't go into that now. If I can just pursue the business of the remit of the RSPs: how should RSPs fit into the PCET reforms? Do you have any comments about that?

I think that the role about skills planning, about future forecasting—that's something that could very well be part of that post-compulsory body. The important thing—I think the point's already been made, both this morning and in this session already—is for that post-compulsory body to be genuinely post compulsory. So, if we're talking about post-compulsory education, it has to take in school sixth forms, it has to take in universities, it has to take in FE and work-based learning. It's about making that a genuinely joined-up system. And, of course, skills planning, whether it's through the medium of RSPs or some other model—that does need to be an important part of that body. 

I think the PCET model is still unclear to me. I think there are aspects of HE that probably shouldn't be in there, but I think there are aspects that certainly should. We're seeing a lot more students now on year-zero courses, who are doing the first year of a four-year degree. We're seeing a reduction in some universities in terms of entrance qualifications. I know we're seeing a lot of students in the college now who are sitting back, not so worried about their A-levels, because their offer is there. There's a place for that, but not at the size we're seeing it now.

The introduction of things like the degree apprenticeships is a real option for those children. We do a lot of work in Gower with accountancy. Those youngsters are 18 years of age, they're working part-time in an accountancy firm, they're doing AAT or ACA in the evenings. At 21, they've got no loans, they've got three years' experience, and they've got qualifications. They're line managing the students that are coming out of university with a degree, maybe a 2:1, with £50,000-worth of debt, with no work experience at all. Apprenticeships are a real opportunity, a real possibility for those students. It's got to be included on the menu for them, rather than just saying HE is the natural place to do. It's right for some, but it's not right for all.

Absolutely. The Cardiff city deal cabinet considered a paper on the need to bring together the Welsh Government and city deal work streams of that particular regional skills partnership. Should the partnerships report into the respective city and growth deals and what should future governance arrangements be?

Are you talking there more generally about the link between RSPs and the growth deals?

I'll come in from the north Wales perspective to start with. I sit on the growth deal, the ambition board in north Wales, as an observer, but it's led by the six local authorities. Our concern is that the RSP is effectively being presented as a sub-committee of the growth deal. Certainly, the two colleges in the north totally think that's the wrong thing to do. That's not why the RSPs were set up in the first place. They were instigated by Welsh Government, they received some funding, I believe, in order to do their business. I don't mind there being a dotted line in it, to inform it, but I think a grab to get hold of the RSPs and get them feeding into regional growth deals would be the wrong thing to do.

I have to say, as colleges, this might seem a little parochial, but up until 1993 we were part of the local authority set-up in Wales. That's a long time ago. I was just starting in FE at that point. But since then we've had a level of independence, responsible to the Welsh Government, and our concern is that—with all this checking of all that we do in our colleges through an RSP, and then the RSPs are increasingly, in the north at least, being responsible to the ambition board, which is led by the six local authorities—it almost feels like going back to 1993 through the back door. I'm sure there isn't a plan there, but that is a genuine concern for us, and I think we've made that position clear in some of our feedback. 


Can I just ask you, David: what's wrong with being more locally focused and supporting the city growth deal? I don't understand why you object to that vision, as opposed to having Welsh Government as your boss.

I think it's the extent of that linking. There clearly needs to be a linking. If you have a growth deal, ambition board or whatever, they need to take on board the skills issues. But I think it's an issue between feeding in the work of an RSP and that influencing what the growth deal does, compared to the RSP, in effect, being accountable—directly and formally accountable—

Well, I personally don't agree with it because they are accountable to the Welsh Government, linked to the WESP, in terms of the way we develop more broadly in Wales. Clearly, if there's a policy decision made that that's going to be devolved to the regions, that's for others to decide. But at this point in time, that responsibility does not lie with the regions. It lies with the Welsh Government. I, personally, wouldn't support it going to the regions. I fully support something being done at a regional level, but just doing things at a regional level doesn't ultimately mean every time having to devolve every single bit of power to the region. I think people need to be able to work together without always having to have the control of something in order to do it. People need to work across lines.

So, what do you think the model should look like, if you were designing the model?

Well, I think we're back to the question that Rachel answered. I do think that if, as we anticipate the PCET comes into—[Inaudible.]—reforms, I think that that, effectively, is almost setting up, in some ways, a national RSP. I think it's more than that. Clearly, the RSPs need to feed into the PCET. That would be the link that I would see.

I suppose my question was in regard to the growth deal. So, the RSP is a part of the growth deal, in terms of—. I think you were suggesting that that's not the right model in how RSPs work with the north Wales ambition board. Is that right?

What I'm saying is that I think there clearly needs to be a dotted line in, because you can't really have a sensible growth deal in any region if you're not taking on board what's happening in terms of regional skills partnerships.

So, how should the model look in that instance? That's what I was trying to get to.

I think it's just about membership and, you know, defined linkages. But I don't see it as being formal accountability where you get to the point where—. Our plans, at the moment, are being signed off by the regional skills partnership. If you take it to the next level, if it then reports formally into the growth deal boards, you would effectively be saying that they're signing off our proposals by agreeing or otherwise with the RSP. I think that that would be a step in the wrong direction and, in reality, would cut across the legal structures within which we're operating at the moment.

I see. David, did you have any further questions? Sorry, did you have any further questions, or does anybody else—panel members—want to answer on that point before we move on? No. Vikki Howells.

Thank you, Chair. I'm interested in how, as colleges, you plan your curriculum. You've already talked about some of the complexities around that, so I wanted to unpick it further. So, just broadly: how do you develop your skills offer at the moment as colleges?

Okay. We take into account a lot of information that we receive locally, and through our own established contacts with employers, and through our contacts with young people. So, there is a layer of intelligence that means that we respond to local need and local demand. Certainly, in a college like mine, where we have more than one site, we have to then make decisions about where provision is placed. Clearly, if you're talking about something like engineering, which requires capital investment, then we have to make decisions about where the best place to locate that provision is to allow greatest participation and greatest access. There's then a whole ongoing dialogue with employers about how we respond to their needs and how we develop a curriculum to respond to their needs. I think that, for all colleges in the sector, in recent years, they have become increasingly employer-led, in that we have a curriculum that is largely regulated and standardised through the qualifications framework. But we can better meet employers' needs by looking at the way in which we deliver those qualifications. So, it might not be about developing new qualifications. It might be about developing new approaches to delivering those qualifications. Then, we use LNI, we use market intelligence, we use data. And all of that comes together to try to provide the best possible range of curriculum within the resources that we have available to best meet need. And I think that the dimension of the conversation that we've not touched on so far is about out social responsibility to the communities we serve. So, our curriculum planning and our curriculum offer isn't ever going to be just purely employer-led, because a large part of the dialogue has to be with our other community stakeholders about whether or not what we are doing is meeting their needs.


And how do you go about getting that dialogue with employers? Anecdotal evidence that I take locally suggests that there's maybe a pool of larger employers that have that close working relationship, and some smaller employers can feel a bit excluded from that process.

Yes, I think employer engagement is notoriously difficult. In a nation where we are overwhelmingly an economy of small and medium-sized enterprises, it's very difficult to have that dialogue. In my college, we have a series of employer forums. They are matched to the RSP's priority skills areas. And so we try to have a structured dialogue with employer groups in those priority areas. But we also do a lot of informal work with our customers—people who are routinely buying training from us, placing apprentices with us. And so, it is a challenge. It is not an easy thing to do. But it's something that is organic and grows over time. It really isn't about that very, very short-term planning that is currently the focus of the RSP. You know, how many hairdressers next year? Frankly, that's not the level of planning that we usefully work at.

Appreciated. And, perhaps, most tricky of all, how do you balance student demand with employer demand?

That's the most tricky of all. It's the same curriculum planning in Gower as it is in Gwent, and that's what my staff are going through now—day meetings with every area. So, we have a plan for what we want to do next year. We also have a plan for the work curriculum we want to bring on in two or three years' time, and then the students walk in in September. And you do all the marketing and you do the work in the 11 to 16 schools, and in many regards, that can be successful, but there are also students that walk in who say, 'I want to do hairdressing.' And so, you're left with that decision as to what you do. And we find we will generally put the courses on for them, because if we don't, they'll either go back to school to do A-levels or they will come off as not in education, employment or training, but we'll work with them over that period. We find that many then will move over to curriculum areas maybe after one year, certainly after two years. So, that's the balance all the time. And sometimes, we will take students for which we're not funded because we know the best chance for those students is to come on a course that they can engage in and it will give them the best life chances—not in six months, but maybe in a year's time. So, that's always a challenge. You sit there in September, particularly in an area like Swansea, where there's a mixed economy—half the schools have sixth forms, half of them don't—and we know that about a third of the students that say they're going to come don't, and about a third of the students who we don't think are coming will turn up, and then we try to manage it, operationally, in that September/October period. It's probably one of the biggest challenges we have. 

It's certainly a very fine and difficult balance, and I think your evidence has drawn that out for us well today. I've got one final question, if I might, then, Chair. What are you finding in each college that employers are actually asking for in terms of skills, either in the short term or if they are thinking more long term? How are you embedding those, and are the regional skills partnerships involved in any of that?

The single most frequently conversation I have with employers isn't about vocational skills, it's about employability skills. It's about: is a young person or a young adult, because it's not just about 16 to 19-year-olds—? The population of colleges is significantly more diverse than that. The most routine conversation I have is about being ready for work—'Do they understand the obligations of work? Do they have a level of literacy and numeracy that is going to be suitable for my workplace?' That's the most frequent conversation.

At the other end of the spectrum, yes, I have conversations with employers. There's an employer in Pontypool that recently had a conversation with me about advanced welding. It's a small, Welsh company. They are a leading global supplier in fire control duct systems and he needs the highest quality welders he can get. So, that dialogue is a huge spectrum, but, I have to say, most frequently it's around the employability skills.


Yes, absolutely, that's a point I would agree entirely with—what Guy said. In addition to that, I think we're seeing, where there are particular shortages, there are some extremes. So, you find some of what I would call the more cleansed skill side in terms of the industries, in advanced manufacturing and also things like software, digital. There's a real demand for them at the moment, which is hard to fill. And then, on the other side, then, there's issues around—and I think somebody's picked up on it already—social care, care, childcare. We all know the challenges around social care. There's a real shortage of staff for that sector, and the only way we can really fill those places is to find ways of being able to bring older learners through—by that I mean over 25—to get qualifications, and the trouble is that, at the moment, the way that part of the funding model works is that unless you put them on the level 3 programme, we won't get funded for somebody who's over 25 to do a level 2 programme.

Like this ambition about getting more and more people into the level 3, the A-level equivalent or the national diploma level in Wales, I fully support that, but, you know, sometimes, in most cases, you can't just put them on level 3? If they haven't had a good experience at school or at college, you've got to do the steps. And that's particularly important in social care. That's, to me, a real problem with getting people in to solve a simple problem, and a simple problem that needs solving for the care sector.

Yes, exactly the same. I think it's a big one, and, as an example, we've used Government funding like sector priorities programme funding—SPP—over the last year to release staff to start developing the curriculum that employers are saying they want. It takes 18 months to two years, with a view to—. I think Welsh Government announced the proposals for degree apprenticeships this morning—a launch—and now we're working with a couple of universities to submit curriculum there that's in direct response to what industry are wanting, and we've used Government funding in recent years to do all the development work in readiness. But the guys are right—employability is huge. Just, 'Give us the staff, make sure they turn up on time, well behaved, well dressed, can work in a team, and we'll teach them the skills' is what a lot of employers say.

Gaf i jest ofyn cwestiwn cychwynnol syml? Ydych chi wedi darllen y cynlluniau partneriaethau mwyaf diweddar, a beth ydych chi'n credu amdanyn nhw? Rŷn ni wedi clywed taw dim ond un ohonyn nhw sydd ar-lein ar hyn o bryd—gorllewin a chanolbarth Cymru, yr un mwyaf diweddar. Ond, yn y sesiwn gynt, gwnaethon ni glywed eu bod nhw i gyd ar gael. Felly, beth yw'ch barn chi am y cynlluniau, a beth ydych chi'n credu sydd yn mynd i ddigwydd o ganlyniad i'r cynlluniau hynny?

Can I just ask a simple initial question? Have you read the latest partnership plans and what do you think about them? We've heard that only one of them is online currently—west and mid Wales, the most recent. But in the previous session, we heard that they're all available. So, what's your opinion about the plans, and what do you think will happen as a result of them?

Fe wnaf i ateb yn Gymraeg. Doeddwn i ddim yn ymwybodol o'r ddogfen—os dŷn ni'n sôn am yr un ddogfen. I fod yn deg, dwi ddim yn eistedd ar yr RSP anyway. Mae un o'n aelodau staff i'n eistedd ar y peth. Ond, na, doeddwn i ddim yn ymwybodol ohono fo a rhai o'r pethau sy'n digwydd. 

I'll answer in Welsh. I wasn't aware of the document—if we're talking about the same document here. To be fair, I don't sit on the RSP itself, although one of my staff member does. But I wasn't aware of it and some of the things that happen.

Ocê. So, yn amlwg, mae yna wahaniaeth barn o ran beth sydd ar gael i'w ddarllen a beth sydd ddim ar gael ar hyn o bryd o ran y cynlluniau eu hunain.

Okay. So, clearly, there's a difference of opinion about what's available to be read and what isn't available in terms of the plans themselves. 

Rwy'n credu, ond, dwn i ddim, efallai mai ar fi mae'r bai am hwnna. Doeddwn i ddim yn—

I think there is, but, I don't know, that might be my fault, as I'm just not—.

Dwi'n credu mai hwn yw rhan o'r broblem, ond gwnawn ni drafod hynny'n breifat, mae'n siŵr. Unrhyw un arall?

I think that's part of the problem, but we'll discuss that in private, I'm sure. Anyone else? 

Yes. So, what will happen, we'll then have a meeting with Welsh Government—we've had ours already—where Welsh Government come in and they say, 'Well, how are you flexing the curriculum to meet those needs?' That's where a region could be useful because it's not easy, say, for example, to reduce hairdressing and just move those lecturers into engineering. Maybe it's doable over time, but it's not possible in six months. But maybe one college has got some cutbacks and maybe staff are retiring in that area, and, therefore, between the four of us, we're able to plan to respond to the RSP changes by reducing curriculum in some areas and increasing curriculum in other areas. It's small—it's your 5 to 10 per cent and there's no additional money. So, if something goes up in response, something has to go down. That's always the challenge. But you still feel we're just playing with it. Where are A-levels? I speak as a big A-level provider. Why aren't we looking at A-levels as well, because many of the students who maybe should be doing A-levels should be doing some of the vocational provision? So, at the moment, we're just kind of playing around the margins a bit. That's my view.

I'm not aware that the plans are available publicly or online. What I would say about the provision plan that we have to return for Welsh Government with RSP input is that our experience of that is that it is a very FE-led process. So, it is shared information, and it is collaborative between the colleges, and it is essentially an exercise that we are doing on behalf of the RSP. But I'm not aware that that's shared publicly. Then, individually, each college's plan is reviewed with the Welsh Government. 


Ro'n i jest eisiau gwybod, achos dwi'n credu ei fod e'n eithaf cymhleth ar hyn o bryd i ddeall beth sy'n digwydd. Fe wnaethom ni glywed yn gynharach nad oedd rhai o'r partneriaethau yn gallu—. Rŷch chi wedi siarad am hyn yn barod, Guy Lacey, o ran yr EMSI data. Os nad yw'r partneriaethau'n cael yr un access i'r data hynny, pa mor anodd yw hi iddyn nhw gael llun cynhwysfawr o'r hyn sydd angen cael ei wneud gan y partneriaethau yn rhan o'u cynlluniau nhw? Felly, eich barn chi ar hynny. Ond, yn sicr, os dŷch chi heb ddarllen y cynllun, mae'n anodd i chi efallai gael barn—ond, efallai, sylwad ar y data penodol sydd ddim ar gael i'r partneriaethau.

I just wanted to know, because it's quite complex currently to understand what's happening. We heard earlier that some of the partnerships—. You've mentioned this already, Guy Lacey, in terms of the EMSI data. If some of these partnerships don't have the same access to that data, how difficult is it for them to have a complete picture of what needs to be done regarding the partnerships and their plans? So, what's your opinion of that? Certainly, if you haven't read the plan, it's difficult for you, perhaps, to have an opinion on that—but, perhaps, a comment on that specific data that isn't available to those partnerships.

I think I misunderstood your first question. So, in terms of the regional skills plan, yes, that is available and that is circulated. In terms of the college's curriculum plans, which we have to return to Government, no, as far as I'm aware, they are not available. 

So, my understanding is that each RSP goes through a process in response to Welsh Government prompts to provide some sort of summary plan of skills priorities within the region. They are available and they are provided to the college. In the south-east, the colleges use that skills plan, as we call it, to inform and influence the curriculum planning that we do.

Specifically on the issue of the data and the availability of the LMI, I'm not clear where some of the content of the plan comes from in terms of the LMI evidence that is there to support it. The way I would characterise it is that, I think, sometimes there's a tendency for there to be a gap between aspiration and reality in those regional plans. I think there is an aspiration to target skills development to lead to high-value jobs and to draw in inward investment. While that's a very worthwhile thing, the reality for most people, and for most job vacancies within the region, is that they won't fall into those one or two small high-value areas.

Okay, that helps me. Thank you. If anybody else has a comment on that, in particular—

It is very difficult, to be honest, to [Inaudible.]—

Why can't they get hold of it? Why can't they get it from Welsh Government?

Well, they do get information from Welsh Government, but it—

Absolutely, it is. What else they do is they send surveys out. In the south-west and in mid Wales, we send surveys out to employers, where employers provide that information. It's a constant chase to get as many responses as we can to that survey, and, at the meeting, we do have employer reps in the south-west, and the chair is almost giving them targets: 'We need so many responses coming back'. But, ultimately, it depends on how many people fill that survey in. So, the information is okay, but it's not robust. We find in some cases, as you heard before, the EMSI data that we use, we believe, is more accurate than that, which is useful but not useful on its own.  

A gaf i jest ychwanegu pwynt yn y Gymraeg, yn gyflym? Efallai, yn yr un modd, fe wnes i gamddeall i ryw raddau dy gwestiwn di, Bethan.

May I just add a point in Welsh, briefly? Perhaps, in the same way, I misunderstood your question a little bit.

Rwy'n credu fy mod i angen gwneud rhyw fath o foundational degree yn y sector yma i'w ddeall e'n well.

I think I need to do some sort of foundational degree in this sector to understand it better.

Dwi, wrth gwrs, yn ymwybodol o'r cynllun rhanbarthol ar gyfer sgiliau a chyflogaeth. Ond, i fynd yn ôl at y pwynt ynglŷn â'r data yma, mae'r data ar gael. Cwmni preifat ydy EMSI—cwmni Americanaidd. Ni oedd y coleg cyntaf yng Nghymru i ddechrau ei ddefnyddio fo. Sut wnes i ffeindio allan amdano fo? Nid yng Nghymru. Fe wnes i ffeindio allan amdano fo drwy ran o rwydwaith rŷm ni'n gweithio efo fo yn Lloegr. Mae hynny'n rhywbeth i feddwl amdano hefyd. Efallai fod yn rhaid inni edrych y tu allan i Gymru mwy yn y ffordd dŷn ni'n gwneud pethau, ond dwi'n siŵr bod y rhan fwyaf o'r colegau nawr yn defnyddio EMSI. Dydy EMSI ddim yn ddefnyddiol, fel mae sawl un wedi dweud yn barod y bore yma, ar gyfer cynllunio yn y tymor byr iawn. Tymor hir ydy EMSI, a dyna, rili, dwi'n credu ddylai ffocws yr RSPs fod achos, fel ro'n i'n dweud, y gwir amdani ydi, yn y tymor byr, dŷn ni'n gorfod ymateb i anghenion unigolion a hefyd i gyflogwyr. A dyna beth dŷn ni'n ei wneud. Fel mae Mark wedi'i ddweud, os ydy rhywun yn dod i'r coleg ac mae gyda nhw'r cymwysterau i wneud rhyw gwrs sydd gennym ni, dŷn ni ddim yn dweud wrthyn nhw, 'Na, dŷch chi'n methu dod achos dim ond 10 sy'n cael eu cyllido.' Dŷn ni'n cynnig llefydd ychwanegol, achos dyna beth dŷn ni'n ei wneud—gwasanaeth lleol ydym ni ar ddiwedd y dydd. 

Of course, I am aware of the regional plan for skills and employment. But, going back to the point about these data, the data are available. EMSI is a private American company. We're the first college to in Wales to start using that data. How did I find out about it? Not in Wales. It was through the network that we are working with in England. So, that's another point to think about. Perhaps we need to look outwith Wales, but I think the majority of colleges now use EMSI. EMSI, as several people have said this morning, is not used for short-term planning. The EMSI data is for longer term planning, and that, I think, is what the focus of the RSPs should be, because, the truth is, in the short term, we have to respond to the needs of individuals and also employers. And that's what we do. As Mark has said, if somebody comes to the college, and they have the qualifications to do a particular course, we don't say to them, 'No, you can't do that because we only have 10 funded places for it.' We provide the additional places because that's what we do—we're a local service ultimately.


Y cwestiwn olaf gen i yw'r ddealltwriaeth yma o ran diffiniad o economi sylfaenol. Dwi'n gwybod efallai ei fod e'n cael ei asesu fel rhywbeth sgil isel, ond, yn sicr, mae yna bobl sgiliau uchel yn rhan o'r diffiniad hynny. Ond efallai nad yw hynny'n cael ei gyfathrebu'n effeithiol gan Lywodraeth Cymru. Ydy hynny'n rhan o'r broblem?

The last question from me is this understanding in terms of the definition of the foundational economy. I know that perhaps it is assessed as something that is low skilled, but, certainly, there are people with high skills part of the definition. But perhaps it isn't communicated effectively by the Welsh Government. Is this part of the problem?

Dwi'n hapus i ymateb yn gyflym, ac efallai fydd rhai eraill hefyd. Mae lot o siarad am y sector yna ar y foment, a, fy hunan, dwi'n credu ei fod e'n ddatblygiad pwysig ein bod ni'n canolbwyntio arno efo rhai o'r sectorau eraill. Ond, dwi'n credu taswn i'n gofyn i bawb efallai hyd yn oed yn yr ystafell yma, yn gywir, 'Beth ydy'r sector a beth dwi'n ei ddeall?', dwi'n credu y cawn ni sawl ateb gwahanol iawn. Dwi'n credu bod eisiau diffinio beth dŷn ni'n ei feddwl—

I'm happy to respond quickly, and perhaps others will as well. There's a great deal of mention made about this sector, and I think that it's an important development that we are focused on it with some of the other sectors. But, if I were to ask perhaps everyone in this room, 'What is the sector and what do I understand about it?', I think we would have several different dentitions. So, I think we need to define that—

Y Llywodraeth sydd angen gwneud hynny?

The Government needs to do that?

Ie, er mwyn i ni wedyn gario ymlaen efo fo.

Yes, so that we can continue with that work.

I think I got a bit lost in the first part of Bethan Sayed's questions, and I think part of it was I was trying to listen in Welsh. I was trying to listen in Welsh as well, so that didn't help. 'Cynllun'—that was the thing.

Regional planning of funding templates—is that what you were referring to when you were talking about planning?

There's a regional skills plan—a regional assessment of skills demand—which is an RSP document published in the south-east region on an annual basis, which is, if you like, the strategic assessment.

And that is the regional plan.

The planning a funding template is then a technical return that colleges are required to do for Welsh Government, and an element of that is about showing that the colleges are responding to the specific courses and the specific sector areas that have been identified by the RSP as areas to either increase or decrease provision. 

Right. And are they effective? Are they making the right recommentadions?

For a whole host of reasons. First of all, because I think the exercise is fundamentally flawed, because it is an in-year exercise. It's all about, 'Do we need 16 hairdressers next year?' And I think that micromanagement of provision is, ultimately, a fool's errand. That's not a criticism of the RSP; I think that's a criticism of the inherent activity of trying to plan, at a regional level, down to the micro level of an individual course, a level 2 hairdressing course where, this year, colleges in the region had 30 students. Next year there should be 28. So, I think that— 

They are currently, through that template, required to make a series of recommendations about courses that should go up, courses that should go down.

Okay. ColegauCymru—if I come to Rachel Bowen—said that labour market intelligence continues to show demand for lower skilled roles. You touched on this earlier, but do you think that partnerships are overly influenced by the Welsh Government's higher level agenda?

I can understand why, as a goal, we're looking to have more high-skilled jobs in Wales, so that people have got better incomes, better standards of living and a more educated workforce. And that would be a good thing. But I think the point has already been made about the difference between the aspirational economy and the economy we currently have. So, we do have a large number of skills gaps that are in lower level skills, and you can't progress people—the point's already been made—into higher level skills if you don't have that base coming through the pipeline. You can't automatically stick somebody on a level 3 qualification, particularly if it's something in an area they've never worked in before. So, while I think it's obviously good to have aspiration, we need to work with the economy we have. I also think that something that hasn't come out yet, which is that when we're talking about skills gaps and we're talking about employer need, we are actually talking about people. We are talking about people and their lives, and people as human beings rather than just units of production. So, we also need to be thinking about: what makes a job meaningful? What means that people feel that they're making a valid contribution to the economy and society? There's a statistic that Professor Karel Williams uses that shows that something like over half of the people in the UK feel that their job makes no meaningful contribution to society. Over half of people think that their job makes no difference whatsoever. Well, on the back of that, is it any wonder that we do have a productivity problem? Is it any wonder that we do have such a high level of people who have low-level mental health problems? We need to be thinking about meaningful work and jobs and skills that give people meaningful reasons to go to work and do well, as well as just the cold, 'We need 16 hairdressers. We need 24 engineers.'


How would the dialogue take place between skills partnerships and colleges about the route between lower level and higher level skills? Because there surely can be a link. It doesn't necessarily mean, if you have lower level skills development—it doesn't necessarily mean you're forever in that, because they surely then lead on to the development of higher level skills. Do you think we're separating them out too much and should be seeing it as a progression and the system doesn't allow that to happen because the focus is—you know, 'This year or this term, we're focusing on high-level skills'?

I think that's probably more a question for individual colleges to be able to answer in terms of that emphasis on the progression.

I think the emphasis should be on progression. I think we have many, many young people who are coming with a poor experience of compulsory education and a poor qualification profile. And, as Rachel said, this gap between aspiration and reality—I think we have to constantly keep it in mind. We've got an adult population—. My college does a large amount of work with adults through partnership with our five local authorities in Gwent. Most of that is around literacy and numeracy development.

I don't want to go off topic. I'm thinking about the role of regional skills partnerships in enabling that.

Well, I think regional skills partnerships need to be part of that dialogue. If they are going to take a longer term view of what is needed, then, what is needed to grow our economy and develop our economy is making sure that we address those lower skills needs as well, with a focus on progression.

I think there can be. I think, in some cases, you're exactly right. So, construction in south-west—level 3 is a priority; level 1 isn't. In fact, level 1 we're told to reduce, but you need the level 1 to get to level 3. So, we've got to respond in all the templates to more level 3, less level 1. That's one of the targets that we've got. So, it can be in some cases—that's not across the board, but in some cases it can be out of line.

Yes. I don't think the RSPs are equipped to do that, to be honest, to advise on that. They haven't the people on there or the know-how, and I don't think that's something they're particularly pursuing. I think the challenge with RSPs is that they spend most years developing a plan, getting it signed off and then, once it's signed off, developing another plan. I go back to my first point. We've got to have the clarity about the objective; once you know the objective, you can have a plan, but I think—and it says it in somebody's evidence—the plans need to be three- or five-year plans. You get planning blight, don't you? Once you've got a plan in place, you need to concentrate on doing, and then you need to be putting the dipstick in to check whether you're achieving things, but RSPs are just planning, ticking the box, 'Yes, look at this great plan, let's launch it.' That doesn't achieve anything. And that's at the heart—. I think they're doing the wrong things. They need to decide what they're trying to do, what the objectives are—how would you measure success of regional planning, and then what are the things we need to do and what are the structures we need in place to do that? And that's when we get some of the answers to things around university involvement and school involvement as well.

I'm not sure whether perhaps you've answered this question already, at least by implication, but what are the partnerships doing to genuinely make people more employable or offer them coherent progression opportunities and pathways? Are they doing anything useful in this space?

I think there are some—it's the old thing, isn't it, that I think it's good to talk to people. And if you didn't have the RSPs—there are certain people who are now coming together, and by getting together we're getting conversations around training and skills, which is adding some benefit. So, yes, I think that does provide—. But the fundamental issue: are RSPs ensuring that the long term—as Guy said, the five to 10 years ahead—. Are we making sure that Wales is in a good place to meet the skills that are going to support the economy? I would say not at the moment.


They do lots of things. I wouldn't disagree with what David says. RSPs will go into schools, they'll help run career events, and the members in the RSPs, working on behalf of their own companies, will again go into schools. So, I think everyone is putting a lot of effort into it, so I wouldn't want you to think they do nothing, because I don't think that's true at all. However, I would agree with David's point. I think we need to know what the end goal is and maybe we can look at the structures and aim towards there. We're throwing a lot of weight at it at the moment, and some of it is sticking, some of it isn't.

There needs to be a clear direction over what the role of RSPs is and then they can focus on doing whatever that is. So, if that is about making changes to employability and influencing skills, then it will be that. If it's employer engagement, it will be that. It's deciding what it is we want them to do, rather than mission creep and expectations that they will do all these other things, particularly when—. They need the resources in order to deliver whatever their agreed objectives are. It doesn't seem very clear as to what the agreed objectives are, so we don't know the levels of resource they need.

Am I clear about my own college's strategic plan and its objectives? Yes. Absolutely.

Yes [Laughter.] If the question is—. Is the question: is there a clear view?

[Inaudible.]—I'm coming to this area relatively new. But I'm wondering, well, if these RSPs aren't driving things in a sensible way, who is? Is it Welsh Government or are the colleges basically getting on with what they fancy doing themselves and providing courses and the Welsh Government funds them and, you know, people come and do them and that's great? I mean, where are we, as a sector, what are we trying to do?

I think all colleges in Wales are very clear about what their objectives are and before the advent of the RSPs, it was a relationship that was largely one of being responsive to Welsh Government policy.

Well, I think that's implicit in what we do.

But isn't Welsh Government sort of pushing against that and trying to drive things in a different direction than might otherwise happen through the interaction between learners and the colleges, and their demand for particular courses, which you're happy to supply?

I don't think so. That's why I said I recognise the need for improving regional planning to support more effective use of the funds to support the economy. I think the challenge is when you've got a plan—. You plan too often—that's a problem—but even if we reduced the plans, I think the trouble is that in looking at the data too granularly and saying, 'Well, there we are then'—we've made the example enough times today—about what we need to do—. It's not like that on the ground.

But I do think we're listening to employers. I think the employer piece—. There's a whole range of groups that feed into Welsh Government policy, that influences what they're asking for, but also, most colleges in Wales are big colleges because we've done a whole range of mergers. And most colleges are heavily engaged with business, be it as individuals, be it involvement with enterprise zones, be it involvement with the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and others. So, all that's going on. And, to be honest, I think people like ourselves—not Rachel, but certainly Mark and Guy and myself—that's what we need to be doing as leaders of organisations. If we don't know the people in our local areas, the businesspeople, then I don't think we're doing our jobs well enough. But I think we all are.

There we are. Joyce Watson. Sorry, did you want to come in, David?

Just very quickly. Would you then say—? You've mentioned the fact that you have to act on what the Welsh Government does, would you then say that RSPs could be the buffer between you and the Government? They are independent and they can say, 'The Welsh Government wants this, but we are saying, "no", we're here to see that actually, that isn't what is needed on the ground', and they're acting as a buffer between yourselves and Welsh Government?

I'm not sure they're acting as a buffer, I think there is a possibility that they are causing interference—[Laughter.]—but no, they're not a buffer.

Well, what's obvious this morning is that there's big tension in some places between the colleges and the RSPs. That's fairly obvious, so we have to get somehow underneath that. So, I'm going to ask another round of contentious questions—I have no doubt that you'll think they're contentious—particularly to ColegauCymru. You say that you're not certain that the RSPs are the most effective channels for distributing funding programmes like the skills priorities and the skills development fund. Do you want to explain why you think that?


It's because of all the ground that we've already covered. When you're talking about distributing funding on the basis of, say, employer demand or skills gaps, if we're not confident that we really have accurately gauged that employer demand, or what the skills gaps are, or what those future skills gaps might be, so we don't put too much funding into industries that potentially might be obsolete in three to five years' time, then that's the reason that we're cautious over whether this is the right mechanism. Until we've got more confidence that the intelligence, both the past data, so, historical data, but also where we can forecast and think about what's coming, until we've got more confidence in that, then maybe this isn't the best mechanism for distributing some of those funds. 

So, you're not confident, so what needs to change for you to be confident?

I think that, again, it's lots of things that we've already discussed today, so it's improving that data, improving the engagement with employers, but again, employers of all sizes, so it isn't just those employers that shout the loudest that end up getting funding for their skills demands—it's all those interactions that we need to be confident are happening more consistently, across Wales as well. 

Well, we could argue that colleges are already well placed to do some of those things. Colleges already work together on a regional basis, so, to a certain extent, colleges were doing these kinds of things before RSPs, but if we have that independent-from-colleges aspect, it's not to say that RSPs couldn't become suitable to do it in future. It's just that things don't seem to be in place at the moment. 

So, for me, it's Welsh Government. Welsh Government do that at the moment, and it's when Welsh Government are coming in, they're saying to us, 'To what extent have you taken into consideration the views of the RSP?' So, I think the RSPs add, in some cases, value to that discussion. Giving RSPs the responsibility for approving it, I think, is a different step, because colleges are taking on, yes, employers, but we're also taking into consideration a whole range of other social issues like potential NEETs as well. So we listen to what comes from the RSPs, but we look at other things as well, and ultimately the Welsh Government is signing that off. So, we have to do regular returns on SPB, SDFs—we're being monitored on a regular basis.

Any other further questions from Members? Do panel members, as we draw an end to our session—is there anything else you want to impart to us that wasn't drawn out in questions this morning? David.

I think there's a strong message coming through from us that we fully support improved regional planning to make sure we use public money—and there's a lot there—to better support the bigger Wales objectives. What we are saying, I think, is that the RSP structure, the working partnership, is something that we support, but there needs to be a review to ensure there is clarity about what it's trying to achieve, the data it uses, and the scope of what RSPs are looking at, so that we end up with better regional planning rather than the current system, which is, in effect, some sort of new vetting system for annual FE college funding allocations.

We haven't touched on, in any of the questioning, the issues around consistency amongst the RSPs, and their governance. So, I would suggest that one of the things that would be a mark of a successful RSP structure at some point in the future would be if we've got clear governance structures, so we clearly understand how they work, and what the accountability structures around them are, and the fact that, actually, there is some consistency of organisation, resourcing and structure within them.

Do you want to talk to some of those issues now in terms of the governance of regional skills partnerships?

Only in that I would suggest that, if you look at the governance structures currently across the three partnerships, they're all completely different. The representation level is completely different. 

I think there are problems in there, yes, in that the people who are heard at the RSP table, and the relative strengths of voices at the RSP table, can lead to some people having too loud a voice and other people not having a loud enough voice. 


I'll bring Mark in, and I'll come to both of you if you want to add comments as well. 

Could I ask you, David Jones—? You said just now, I think, that you supported the regional partnerships policy, but mainly what I've heard from you today is criticism of it. So, I'm just a bit unclear as to where you stand. 

I think I made myself quite clear—obviously not to you—in that. What I'm saying is that we support a regional approach to planning. We're not saying we don't want regional planning. I don't think any of us have said that for one moment. I think what we're criticising is the approach that's been taken. 

Also, when you spoke before, you seemed very keen on the Welsh Government link and, okay, we could have dotted lines to these regional structures, but it was the Welsh Government—that's where you wanted to be in terms of interaction priority.

No, you misrepresented what I said, then. You were asking a specific question about city deals and growth deals, and I was making a point about the link between the RSPs and the city deal boards, where I'm very clear that there needs to be a dotted line in, but not an accountability line. That's the difference. I think, on RSPs, there needs to be some form of regional planning and, at the moment, that is something that's being instigated by Welsh Government, linked to the funding that they present to various sectors, and I think that's acceptable. But unless there's a policy change and they devolve everything out to regions, then that changes things, but, at this point in time, we don't have the devolution of all of education out to the regions of Wales. So, on that basis, to have the RSPs reporting directly into city deal boards isn't right, and that doesn't even take on board the fact that probably the middle of Wales, mid Wales, isn't even being represented effectively. It's back to Mark's point earlier, or somebody's point, about mid Wales being a different and unique area.  

Thank you. Please don't feel I'm being critical of your contribution; I'm just new to this area and we've had, I think, two really very different perspectives from the different panels, and I'm trying to navigate my way through that. I wonder, Guy, in that context, whether I can ask you—. You say that some people don't have strong enough voices around the RSP table, and I wonder with that whether you mean the colleges have insufficiently strong voices. And you say some people have too loud voices, and I wonder who they are.   

Okay. Certainly, yes, there is an issue around FE representation in the south-east. There is one member of the skills board representing all of the colleges in the south-east. That is significantly out of line with the two other partnerships in terms of the level of representation of further education.

In terms of the loud voices and the quiet voices— 

I think someone made the point earlier that certain sectors, certain larger employers, have the resources available to release individuals to be active within the partnerships, and therefore inevitably their voices are louder. And other areas, I think—. I was asked a question earlier about the influence of SMEs and, inevitably, the way we listen to SMEs is through representative bodies. But I'm not always certain that representative bodies are capable of representing all of that diversity of opinion that rests within SMEs.    

I think it is about governance—being clear about the governance and representation structure for three RSPs that is consistent. And then I think it is a work in progress in terms of making sure that people are listened to, because I recognise that's a tough task.  

Henry Ford—let's not plan for better horses when, actually, we need to be looking more to the future. 

I think the theory for RSPs is right. How can we argue against having an employer representative around the table? But it plays just one role; there's other information as well. So, I think the RSPs have got a huge role to play. Signing off plans—I'm struggling with that, because we've got a wider brief than just skills needs at higher levels. So, I think it plays a pivotal role, but I agree with David that clarity would be required around what it is trying to do, and I'm still not sure what it is. 

Okay. Thank you. That's a really fascinating session. We've clearly got other evidence sessions before us, and if you follow the work of the committee and the other sessions and you hear something or you want to add something later on, then we'd welcome further evidence as the inquiry progresses. You're all busy people, so thank you very much for your time and attending this morning. We much appreciate it. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd ar gyfer eitem 6
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from item 6


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitem 6, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the meeting for item 6, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

And I move to item 5, and under Standing Order 17.42 can I resolve to exclude members of the public from item 6? Are Members content with that? There we are. Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:00.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:00.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru