What’s your skills agenda?

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The latest youth unemployment figures showed that nearly 1 million 16 to 25-year-olds are out of work, a record high for the UK. The government maintains that there are 500,000 recorded vacancies in the economy. This must surely mean that the UK has a skills problem!

Employers are looking for certain abilities and experience, yet jobseekers are unable to fulfill their requirements. It seems that there is a serious schism between the skills with which we are arming our young people and the demands of businesses.

The thing we need our education system to guarantee is that school leavers are prepared for the job market. Over the years, a focus on standardised testing and league tables has limited the ability of schools to provide learners with the technical and ‘soft skills’ they need for work. We have to heed the message of the Wolf Report and attach more value and focus on vocational training: ensuring young people not only fulfil their academic potential, but they are armed with the skills that employers actually value.

Instead of attaching blame to the further and higher education sector for focusing on qualifications, perhaps we should focus more on the role training providers can play in plugging this gap? There is an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to provide the right training to enable young people to meet organisational goals.

I was talking to a CEO who complained that his training provider merely wanted to sell him a pre-packaged suite of training, when in fact he really needed something tailored to fit his business. He was disappointed that their focus was on meeting their own sales targets, rather than listening to what he needed as an employer.

Employers have a financial strategy, a marketing strategy, a sales strategy but rarely a skills strategy. Yet this is critical if they want to build strong, successful businesses as we emerge from recession. Many employers are empowered in the skills agenda and the good news is that the onus is gradually switching to buyers’ requirements and not that of suppliers. This is exactly how it should be, with what little money our stretched economy can afford to invest in skills directed by employers and not the beneficiaries of delivering skills training.

With spiralling university fees having a knock-on effect on the number of people going to university in the future, it’s more important than ever that we provide the best kind of vocational training for the next generation. If we get it right, this highly motivated and highly skilled workforce will benefit employers, learners, and the economy overall.


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