Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD

The government’s Skills for Jobs White paper is a positive sign of commitment to empowering people of all ages with the skills they and businesses need to thrive. It’s never been a more important time to ensure that our technical and further education system is properly invested in to respond to current and future skills challenges across all sectors of the economy, and to work in close collaboration with business.

Placing employers at the heart of this system is a very important shift

Placing employers at the heart of this system is a very important shift. There is a clear need for better alignment to business and workplace skills needs. However, businesses also must step up. Not only has there been chronic under-investment by too many employers in skills development, but we also know that in turbulent times, investment in skills is often seen as a soft target for cost savings. Investment in people and in their skills should be seen as a strategic investment in the agility and sustainability of any organisation.

To achieve the necessary step change, colleges must be given the resources and empowered to play their full part in meeting the changing skills needs. But they will also need to work closely with businesses to understand and stimulate the demand for skills, helping to future proof talent pipelines and longer term workforce development. Many organisations, particularly smaller firms, will need support in addressing these needs, understanding what their skills needs will be, and how to attract and retain the talent that will sustain them for the future.

Rebalancing the skills system

We need a further education system that equips young people not only with the technical and specialist skills they need to enter work, but also with the core essential or employability skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. The college sector has a key role to play in developing all these skills, but for far too long the sector has been has been neglected and underfunded, limiting its potential. This White Paper represents an important step in rebalancing the skills system.

Yet, while improving the opportunities and diversity of pipelines for young people is vital, to deliver on good jobs for all, there needs to be a much greater emphasis on lifelong learning. Adults will also need to retrain and upskill throughout their lives in a way that we have never seen before. All this requires creating a much more accessible and flexible education and skills system that is responsive to business needs and demands, underpinned colleges that are empowered and invested in.

We must not forget how vital colleges are to community and local connections. Businesses too, by engaging with local colleges, help to ensure they are able to recruit the diverse talent they need and to grow local economies everywhere. It is good therefore to see the recognition and encouragement for these local collaborations in the White Paper. All of this requires adequate and sustained long term funding, which we hope will come to fruition in a future spending review.

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD 

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