In order for the UK economy and business to flourish, it is essential for the workforce to have the correct skills required.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which recently published its first annual report on the state of UK employment and skills, has set itself three key strategic priorities for the coming year to ensure this; building a more strategic, agile and demand-led skills system; maximising individual opportunity for skills and sustainable employment; increasing employer ambition, engagement and investment in skills.
Given the tough economic climate and the major changes due to the skills system over the next year, employers and individuals need as much help as possible to see them through. However, there are ways to meet these priorities without a great deal of expense.
Two major pieces of work by the commission will help meet the government objectives; the simplification programme and the programme of assessing future skills needs. Ten recommendations were put forward for the simplification programme, around areas like integrated brokerage, talent mapping and further development of Train to Gain. The Commission intend to publish a progress report on this later in the year.
The other piece of work is a series of strategic skills assessments. This involves some detailed labour market analysis of what skills are actually needed. This work will start to inform the work of the Skills Funding Agency when it takes over in April 2010. Both of these will be invaluable tools in ‘skilling up the nation’.
The second priority tackles the inequality of opportunity, between high and low-skilled employees. Opportunities for training and development often go to those with existing high skill levels, to the detriment of those at the lower skill level. The Commission propose a number of actions to correct this, including making qualifications more flexible and accessible. There will also be further work on embedding employability skills; a report next spring on tackling exclusion; and an assessment next year of ‘customer journeys,’ (what it is actually like to go through the system).
Ensuring prosperity in the UK, however, really relies on employers recognising that workforce skills, correlates directly to productivity and growth. Without this it is impossible to move forward. It is vital to not only meet employers’ needs but also to engage them more and make the process simple for them. The third strategic priority therefore, focuses on employers. Three areas are particularly critical. One is raising the bar on leadership and management; recommendations are due by spring 2010. Another is skills utilisation, for which a number of reports are coming out shortly and a third is the re-licensing of SSCs, currently underway.
If all of these recommendation are seen through to success, it will help the businesses of the UK to build a robust, skilled workforce that is capable of increasing productivity and increasing profitability, which is ultimately, the bottom line for business.
Steve Besley is head of policy for Edexcel, the UK’s largest awarding body
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