The UK is facing a serious skills shortage. While it is an issue that is discussed regularly, the coronavirus pandemic has significantly highlighted why the country needs to address this and why businesses need to utilise the most effective learning and development opportunities available to them, writes Dianne Wainwright.
Since the pandemic began in March last year, the UK jobs market has drastically changed. The UK has a skills deficit and around two-fifths (38%) involve a lack of digital skills.
According to the Employer Skills Survey (ESS), a third of vacancies (33%) in the UK were considered hard to fill. This is often down to a lack of required skills, qualifications or experience among applicants.
There is a high percentage of people who are not as technically qualified than many of our competitor countries. This is leading to a skills shortage that is holding many of our businesses and innovative industries back.
I am an advocate of skills development programmes and of organisations that are proactively addressing the skills gaps within the West Yorkshire region. One such organisation is Luminate Education Group, which has launched the Yorkshire Centre for Training Development (YCTD).
The centre will bring together staff from across the group’s FE colleges - Leeds City, Harrogate, and Keighley to collaborate on this new training offer.
In the long term, YCTD has the potential to support businesses and their employees with bridging the skills gap and addressing the productivity challenges that the country needs. Currently the country is more than 30 per cent behind the US and around 10-15 per cent behind Germany.
Alex Tuckett, a senior economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers argued in 2019 that productivity shortfall is due to low levels of investment, research and development spending and that the government needs to improve the quality and capacity of local infrastructure.
With the announcement of the Skills for Jobs white paper, I believe that this is a step in the right direction and is beginning to address what the country needs, to drive economic growth. By providing advanced and higher technical training and education, YCTD will address low value qualifications, improve training and support businesses with what they need to thrive
There is a real ambition from the government to build on the existing £2.5 billion apprenticeships programme and it is great to see that it wants employers at the centre of the post-16 skills agenda.
With the ever-changing economic climate, education institutions have recognised that businesses need to adapt their employees’ skills, to ensure a successful post-Brexit and post-Covid-19 transition.
Luminate Education Group’s ability to build relationships with local employers signifies what its member colleges are able to offer in terms of training and the apprenticeships they deliver.
YCTD will support the region’s needs, while helping organisations to adapt to the changing business environment. The centre will feature professional development courses for a range of industries, as well as upskilling opportunities to address business skills shortages.
More recently, there has been far more collaboration between FE institutions and businesses in terms of developing their offering and these relationships will be important going forward as they demonstrate how both colleges and employers are responding to the skills needs of employers across the region. The government needs to continually address and acknowledge what FE colleges offer.
Traditionally, colleges have a label that they only deliver qualifications that might not always be aligned with what businesses actually need and that is a reputation going back a number of years. However, businesses are starting to acknowledge that colleges are there and able to respond, react and recalibrate the offer to meet the needs of businesses.
There needs to be a universal approach to how businesses and FE colleges work together to deliver courses that meet sector specific demands. If we are to get this right, we are going to need to understand and accommodate a number of people who may not necessarily have the right skills and will need to work with employers to see what skills are needed.
There is a big conversation around accessing training from a funding point of view and this is twofold: businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, often feel that they don’t have a big enough budget to invest in training. There is also a perception or perceived barrier by individuals seeking courses, who don’t necessarily want to take on loans or don’t know how to access loans to get more training. Therefore, stakeholders, whether they are the council or training providers, need to support those wanting to reskill or upskill and make information readily accessible so that they understand their options.
If the government can support concerns around getting funding right to support businesses to develop in-house training with colleges that are fit for purpose, then we will be able to address and fill the skills gaps that various sectors are lacking. However, there needs to be consideration of existing staff and ensuring that training is available and accessible to them to upskill, alongside new staff.
Accessing online training, which has become part of a wider curriculum objective due to the pandemic, is going to be critical going forward. FE institutions and employers need to build on that and make training attainable for everyone. Furthermore, there is an overarching need to address digital, literacy and numeracy skills to improve people’s employability prospects.
On-the-job training should not only be about gaining a qualification but about how employees can become productive and effective in the workplace, while ensuring that there is overall development. Initiatives such as Engine Room @ LeedsBID bring together an array of support functions in one city centre location to enable businesses in Leeds to prosper.
Collectively, colleges, the local council and regional partners need to work together to ensure that the right funding is available to drive change. We need to think ahead of how we upskill or reskill people, and the YCTD will be key to this objective.