Mind The Gap: What Government Policy Does to 'Skills'?
That the Centre-Left governments, and indeed Centre-Right governments after them, make such a big deal of skills only indicates that the Conservatism is currently 'eating the world'. The Government involvement in skills undermines the government involvement in public education. And, as I have argued elsewhere, Government getting into skills actually de-skills a society, by creating perverse incentives and altering the playing field So, apart from my key political argument about skills and skilling, which I see as a de-humanising term, here are some of the other things we can see when governments 'become serious' about skills.
The Government intervention in skills shifts the initiative from the parties usually involved in skills development, employers and trade unions, to Government authorised training providers, which are, at best, bureaucratic organisations trying to reduce the process of education to a simple enough checklist, and at worst, fraudsters scamming yet another chunk of government money. A case in point is India, where the Government poured a significant amount of money for 'skilling', but this has led to general collapse of skills development in India instead. The Indian computer training companies, which reached great heights in their heydays in the 1990s and led the world, have lost their shine and became dependent on government handouts instead, and the story, instead of being one of social mobility and progress, has been of ghost learners, obsolete curricula and of late, after the Government insisted on more accountability, of biometric frauds.
So, government mandated skilling, for me, is another form of government violence, an act of definition that limit the agency of individual learners and turn identities to some sort of 'beneficiary'. The burden of bad training soon shifts to poorer people, who are labelled as lazy for not taking up the most inappropriate opportunity given to them. As the attempt to force them into jobs that neither existed, nor they understood anything of, fails, they are branded guilty, and in some part, they accept the guilt for failing to take the opportunity. And, in the meantime, Higher Education, categorised as a wholly different thing, can continue its business unaffected by the huge social exclusion in its wake, and can continue to argue that participation in economic life is not their business.
Given this experience, I reject the argument that Government funding of skills is designed to create a level playing field. The very act of definition of skills outside education should be treated as a deliberate policy to restrict human development, and delinking the community from the development of the individual and adopting a mechanistic view which is destined to fail for the recipient. All the 'skills agenda' is about maintaining a given social structure, rather than creating social mobility. Government can do a lot by funding education, encouraging research and in maintaining a forward-looking regulatory structure, but trying to define 'skills' and dictating who should go to skills and what skills is clearly an oppressive act.