Thursday 30 November 2017 9:25 am

Mind the skills gap: A plan to future-proof the UK workforce

How do we close the skills gap in this country?

At the recent World Skills competition and conference in Abu Dhabi, I learnt that this is not just a UK problem, but also one faced by countries across the world.

Addressing this imbalance sits front and centre of everything this government is trying to achieve through skills reform. Crucially, as all countries at that conference reiterated, where the solution lies in the hands of government working with companies, we recognise that we cannot do it alone.

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Today, the Department for Education hosts its first ever Skills Summit, bringing together education experts and this nation’s top employers, such as Dyson and Amazon, to forge a new alliance to tackle our nation’s skills gap.

We are determined to get skills we need, and to do that businesses, employees and the government must work together. And business is responding.

At the Skills Summit, industry leaders such as Google, Tarmac, Barclays, PwC, CapGemini, KPMG, Fujitsu, Severn Trent and Deloitte have agreed to sign up to a statement of action. They will pledge to work with the government to help deliver skills reform – from work experience to apprenticeships.

This builds on the industrial strategy white paper, published earlier this week, which sets out a common plan for business and government for how Britain can build on its economic strengths, through investment in skills, industries, and infrastructure.

Today’s summit is another important step in recognising this can only be achieved by genuine partnership between the government, business, and educators.

This government has already taken action to create a world-leading technical education system, regarded as highly as our world-class universities.

That is why we are changing our apprenticeship system, and have doubled investment in apprenticeships to £2.5bn.

Apprentices today have the chance to work for industry titans like Rolls-Royce and BMW, in fields as diverse as aerospace engineering and television production, and with some of our smallest employers too.

With the introduction of T-levels, we are also delivering the biggest shake up to technical education in 70 years. T-levels will be developed with the help of top firms like Rolls-Royce, IBM, and Space Engineering Services, and will deliver technical qualifications of equivalent prestige to A-levels in a range of subject areas, including construction, digital, health, and science.

These reforms will play a vital role in unlocking our nation’s potential. But this is just the beginning.

Today, the government has launched the process to create new institutes of technology, which will allow employers to play a key role in delivering the skills our economy needs. These institutions will specialise in STEM provision, tackling the skills gap at a regional and national level and improving the life chances of thousands of people.

But we want to see people of all ages upskill, retrain, and get back into the workplace.

So, we are also launching a new £10m pilot to encourage adults to retrain, as well as new skills advisory panels, which will better align the skills system with employer demand at a local level.

These steps will help deliver the skills that employers are crying out for, and the workforce that this country needs. But there is more to do to address the skills imbalance.

There is a persistent snobbishness towards technical education that we must overcome. As skills minister for England, I believe that the lives of young people can be transformed through technical education – I have seen it many times in the students I have met up and down the country.

The reforms we are introducing will help to put technical education on a par with its academic counterpart, by ending the confusion of routes and qualifications that currently exists.

However, there is much more to do to ensure that parents, teachers, and young people are more aware of the benefits of a technical qualification. We also need business leaders to recognise that these qualifications are on par with academic ones and challenge misconceptions within their industries.

Today marks an important step forward in establishing one team for skills between employers and government. Without the involvement and partnership of industry, we cannot deliver the skills that they require to grow and face the challenges of the future.

I am calling on business to play their part in making sure we have the skilled workforce we need, and our part is recognising that at the heart of this will be the technical education we are delivering.

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