Skills for the Future: Securing the UK’s long term competitiveness

Wed 12 Mar 2014

Blog Author
Rachel Burnham
Associate Tutor

Rachel Burnham, L&D Tutor for MOL, picks out the key themes from the Skills for the Future conference in London.

MOL Tutor Rachel Burnham writes: This excellent conference took place last week in London and was jointly organised by the Work Foundation and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

Matthew Hancock, the Minister of State for Skills & Enterprise and Liam Byrne, the Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills and a whole host of speakers from the OECD, UKCES, businesses and organisations from throughout the skills field shared their ideas on this important topic.  

Here are the key themes that I picked out from this event:

1. Skills development is really, really important for the future of the UK.  The types and level of skills available amongst people have a huge impact on the effectiveness & success of individual organisations, the wider UK economy and on individual’s life chances – not just access to work & income, but also health.  The conference was also the occasion of the launch of a new report ‘The Future of Work: Jobs & Skills in 2030’ by UKCES  which examines four possible scenarios for the UK economy and the kinds of work that will be available in the future.  This report brings out the key point that developing the skills needed will influence the way organisations and the economy are able to adapt to meet and respond to the changes we face. 

2. Matthew Hancock spoke of the need for employer ‘ownership’ of the skills agenda – other speakers immediately questioned whether as an employer they would want ownership of this field, but would rather have ‘influence’.  Whether the move is towards employer ownership or influence, certainly the consensus from the conference was of a need for much greater involvement of employers large and small in the whole area of skills development.

3. Another area of consensus was the need for partnership working, bringing together employers, training providers, government & public bodies, unions and of course individual learners.

4. One of the great pleas echoed by most of the employers who spoke is the need for a stable system that is allowed to develop and improve, rather than being changed constantly and particularly whenever there is a change of government.  One speaker contrasted the 30 major changes in to the vocational education system in the UK in the time that Germany has had 3 major changes.

5. One of the changes welcomed by many was a move to greater regionalisation or even localisation of decision-making on skills and the possibilities that this gives for locally relevant partnership working.  It was also suggested that possibly this could lead to greater stability, as localisation may make it harder for rapid changes of policies and initiatives.

6. A continuing challenge is how to involve businesses in skills development and particularly smaller businesses. With all businesses, the attitudes of senior managers to investment in training and skills are key, but it can be particularly difficult for SME’s to engage in this complex and ever-changing field.   Intermediary organisations can play a key role in helping SME’s to navigate this and to work together to articulate their real skills needs.  We heard of some great examples of how this is being done including from Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, but it is difficult to see how this can work without assistance for some form of intermediary body.

7. One of the most interesting aspects of the event (to me) was the short presentation from Francesca Froy, from OECD, who shared research on the impact of the demand from businesses for skills as well as the effect of the supply of skills.  The demand for skills from a business is hugely dependent upon the business strategy chosen and whether the business choses to compete on the basis of high skills or competes on the basis of low cost.  She identified that looking at both issues allows for consideration not only of the familiar issue of skills gaps, but also the often un-noticed issue of low skill supply and low demand for skills in local economies.   One of the examples, she shared is of the contrast within Manchester – with South Manchester having a ‘high skill demand: high skill supply’ economy and North Manchester having a ‘low skill demand: low skill supply’ economy.

As well as working as an MOL Tutor, Rachel also runs Burnham L & D Consultancy, specialising in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow her on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

To find out more about HR and L&D programmes at MOL by visiting our HR courses page.

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