UK businesses need to combat skills gap post-Brexit

At a fringe event hosted by EY and Bright Blue, a panel of experts discussed how the UK can look to better prepare school leavers and what more businesses can do to ensure the UK has the skills needed for the future.

Businesses need to ensure systems are structured and properly maintained. Photo credit: Fotolia 
Chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, joined a panel debate on the future of skills in the UK, alongside Andy Silvester of the Institute of Directors, EY partner Margaret Burton, Jonathan Simons of Education Policy Exchange, and Randeep Ramesh, chief leader writer at the Guardian.
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“When the repeal act is passed, we have to make sure we get this one right,” said Neil Carmichael.
“Brexit is a call to arms,” said the MP.
Margaret Burton warned that, “more than two thirds of employers are concerned they will not be able to find the skills they will need in the UK.”
She said that Brexit was not only a call to arms, but an opportunity to assist employers. Burton called for immigration policies that would attract migrants to areas outside of the south east – such as a change to the salary quotas to better reflect regional skills need. She also said there has to be a better connection between immigration, training, and education policies.
Andy Silvester said that for IoD’s members, access to skills has shot up as the top issue, past the usual issues of taxes and regulation.
Silvester emphasised the importance of ‘skills for tomorrow’, saying that too often we are presented with a false dichotomy of immigration versus skills. He said that the two need to work together, as immigration can help fill the skills gap of today and education can build the skilled work force of tomorrow.
He was also in agreement with Ms Burton over the need to bring training and education policies together, and noted that “businesses now have a great opportunity to work with school, thanks to corporate governance.”
“We have to have a system that connects business and education, and it has to be structured and properly maintained,” affirmed Carmichael.
The MP also said now is the time to look beyond schools and universities and make sure students are given life skills.
“We are good at producing quality education, degrees, but we need to be sure that when they leave school they have the appropriate skills to succeed in the work place.”
This ties into social mobility, said the MP, “to be socially mobile, you need to be socially equipped and that is about life skills.”
“The thing I have never understood is why skills and lifelong learning is not an issue for the right,” declared Jonathan Simons, saying the very essence of the of the issue merges perfectly with conservative values of empowering the individual and social mobility.
“Lifelong learners should be the bedrock of the Conservative coalition.”
The Conservative Government “has done a really good job to focus on apprenticeships,” said the Guardian’s Randeep Ramesh.
The current apprenticeship target has been set at a 36 per cent increase, but the journalist questioned where these people will be found, saying: “Most people are very far away from the labour market. Those people are also, often very difficult to get into the market, because they don’t have the social skills nor the literacy skills needed.”
“Work place training has failed in this country,” he warned
“Two-thirds of teachers do not offer school children apprenticeships as a way forward in life. You cannot simply tell everyone ‘let’s go to university’.”
“We need to make apprenticeships something that we ‘sell first’ to our children.”
The ‘easy route’ would be to focus exclusively on people 24 years or older, said Ramesh, “but the real problem lies with our 14 year olds.”
He said that there needs to be an effort to stop students from leaving school at 14, because it is creating a group of people who come out of school unable to function in modern society.
Simons agreed with Ramesh’s call to push UK’s 14 year olds to continue their education, rather than exit the school system to go into technical training – a move he labelled: ‘fundamentally misguided’.
He called for a “high quality split” between technical and academic education at age 16 which would value both paths equally.
“The current system does not let us respect skills in this country” because too much of the technical education results in meaningless, low-quality certificates, remarked Jonathan.
He blamed past funding decisions of the Government had made for the poor quality of technical education.
“There is not another sector of education that we would allow to have suffered a 20 per cent cut!”

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