Leading councillors and stakeholders from the skills, employment and education sectors met recently for the third in a series of LGA Skills Taskforce roundtables.
Through this process, it has become clear many organisations agree that the current system needs improvement and that a place-based approach is important.
Research shows that the rate of improvement in the UK skills base has stalled as a result of cuts in public funding for adult skills, along with falling employer investment in skills. Brexit, automation and extended working lives require us to rethink how we adapt to the future jobs market.
This final roundtable was structured around two issues: understanding the impact of changing skills and labour market conditions, nationally and locally; and responding to the skills challenge as a nation and in local areas.
When it comes to our understanding of the current skills context, a key factor is that the labour market is changing – and sectors, employers and individuals need to adapt.
There is demand for skills at all levels, with businesses facing shortages from Level 2 to higher apprenticeships.
“Career pilots are showing that how individuals are identified, engaged and incentivised is important, and can be done to best effect locally
Different sectors have specific challenges to address. For example, construction employers report that work-readiness is a problem. They are keen to work more with further education colleges to address soft skills through short interventions. The automotive industry believes it needs to be on the front foot and take further education providers with it.
Meanwhile, employees are looking at other factors than pay when it comes to considering their job options, such as flexibility, conditions and progression.
The skills system needs to catch up, fast – but it must be properly resourced. There needs to be strong connections between business, local enterprise partnerships, universities and training providers, with regular dialogue on what is needed locally – and councils could be the facilitators.
So what do national and local government, individuals and employers need to do to respond to these skills challenges?
Our participants concluded that we need to understand fully where the jobs are, and how to access them. This includes the different types of work that exist within sectors, where they are located, and the skills they currently need, and how this might change in the future. There was consensus that there needs to be a sharper focus on careers advice and guidance – and that adults also need access to a good system; and clear recognition that employers should be expected to invest in training and skills, but that they need more flexibility and control over how skills money is spent.
Investment in skills provision is required and important, but we need to ensure it is directed in the right way. Progression routes are critical. We need a system that allows the notion of lifelong learning, retraining and ongoing development to flourish.
Everyone agreed that we need to make apprenticeships work; the idea of pooling and transfers, by sector or place, offers potential. There was broad agreement on the need for levy flexibility and that it would be helpful to talk to the Government about this – and that it should be down to individual employers how they use it.
Where provision of skills is funded through general taxation, state intervention operates better, most of the time, at a local labour market level. A one size fits all model will almost certainly not work. Current career pilots are showing that how individuals are identified, engaged and incentivised is important, and can be done to best effect locally.