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Government launches 400 free qualifications to help with economic recovery

There are 31 digital qualifications on offer, including courses in cyber security and coding

The UK government has launched nearly 400 free qualifications as part of its Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

The qualifications, backed by £95 million in government funding, range from engineering and digital skills to social care, and are available to any adult who has not already achieved a qualification at Level 3 - equivalent to A-levels.

There are 31 digital qualifications on offer with a range of topics to choose from, including computer science, software deployment, systems infrastructure, cyber security practices, and coding practices.

Each category awards either a GCE A-Level, a GCE AS Level, an equivalent occupational qualification, or an “other general qualification”.

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced by the PM in September 2020, is aiming to transform the skills system to allow people to “gain the skills they need to progress in work at any stage of their lives". It also aims to give employers access to a skilled workforce by training people for the skills gap that exists now and in the future.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the government’s focus, as lockdown slowly lifts, is on recovering from the pandemic and “building back better".

“The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is fundamental to that – with free courses giving adults the expertise they need to find new, better jobs,” he said. “My message is clear. At every stage of your life, we will help you get the skills you need to train, retrain, and get into jobs you want and our economy needs.”

The government claims that adults who take the free courses will have the potential to boost career prospects, wages, and help fill skill gaps while supporting the economy.

It added that in order to allow more unemployed people to take full advantage of these courses, “the government will pilot an extension to the length of time they can receive Universal Credit while undertaking work-focused study".

Those that are unemployed will be able to train full time for up to 12 weeks, or up to 16 weeks on a full time skills bootcamp in England, and still receive Universal Credit to support their living costs at the same time.

“This will allow access to more training options and provide a better chance of finding work, while continuing to receive the support they need,” stated the government.

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson called the launch of the qualifications a “pivotal moment” in the delivery of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

“This offer will help give millions of adults the chance to gain the skills they need to secure rewarding careers in key sectors of the economy including construction, healthcare and digital. With almost 400 to choose from, there is something there for everyone."

In April 2019, the government was devising an essential digital skills qualification that would lay the foundations for taking up basic digital skills. A functional skills qualification, which was to be available from 2021, would offer support for employment or further education.

Moreover, the number of pupils choosing to study computer studies at GCSE-level dropped between 2017 and 2018, which sparked fears of a skills shortage. Entries for computer science qualifications fell from 318,781 in 2017 to just 175,230.

Last month, the Learning and Work institute published a report that stated the number of students taking IT subjects at GCSE level had fallen by 40%, prompting fears that the UK's economic recovery from COVID could be under threat from a growing digital skills gap.

A full list of the qualifications on offer is available here.

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