Business must act to close the skills gap

Kevin Parkin, Chairman of work-wise
Kevin Parkin, Chairman of work-wise
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Britain will face a chronic skills gap unless universities and business act to boost high skills training according to the Confederation of British Industry.

The CBI says urgent action is needed to boost advanced ‘learn-as-you-earn’ training and more business-designed degrees.

It argues that relying on traditional university courses will not meet the growing demand for degree-level, technical skills in key sectors like manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.

CBI policy director Katja Hall said: “The UK needs to vastly increase the stock of workers with higher-level skills to drive long-term growth and stop us falling behind our competitors.

“We need to tackle the perception that the A-levels and three year-degree model is the only route to a good career.”

The CBI’s concerns struck a chord with Sheffield entrepreneur Kevin Parkin, the driving force behind Work-wise, the South Yorkshire-based business-led organisation that give students a taste of working life and a better understanding of the skills they will need at work.

Mr Parkin says that, thanks to Work-wise, the Cutlers’ Company’s Made in Sheffield Skills and Ambassadors Programme and the soon-to-be-opened AMRC Training Centre, South Yorkshire is creating a blueprint that could answer the CBI’s fears.

“The big thing is to make sure young people in schools get an understanding of what work involves, then, hopefully, they will be able to make better decisions about their future and whether to go into an apprenticeship or to university,” said Mr Parkin.

“The job of creating that understanding has to be employer-led because it is the employers that have the necessary experience.”

Mr Parkin welcomed a call from the CBI for the creation of a vocational service on similar lines to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, UCAS.

The new service would provide information on the full range of business-backed university courses and industry-run training programmes.

The CBI is also calling on the Government to reform financial arrangements for students to give universities greater freedom and encouragement to design short-courses and tailored programmes for business.

Government should also route apprenticeship funding directly through employers, and exempt strategically important subjects from rules that hold back older workers needing to reskill by barring public funding for part-time degrees for people with equivalent or other qualifications.

The CBI says universities’ and colleges’ business-outreach teams need more commercial nous in order to identify gaps in skills needs and design tailored curriculums and courses with employers.

Meanwhile, businesses must strengthen their skills-procurement teams so that they can better explain their needs and give universities and colleges greater insight into the workplace.