biz4Biz skills blog

Skills the new paradigm

On the 21st of June 2021, I wrote my editorial “will we face redundancies or resignations” which you can read here:

Since this article, much of what I predicted has come to pass and as expected a major recession is now on the horizon with inflation exceeding the official level of 11 per cent and is probably closer to 20 per cent in the real world.

We have all heard about the energy crisis and the impact of the war in Ukraine on gas pricing. The truth is that successive governments over the past 25 years have all failed to take effective action in delivering our infrastructure for energy, believing that the long grass is the best place for any decision. Scared to consider nuclear, following Chernobyl and Fukushima melt downs and concerned about fossil fuel impact on the climate the best decision to make, was no decision at all and here we are facing the worst of all worlds in energy independency terms.

Simply announcing a desire to build eight nuclear power stations may be an excellent step in at least “a” direction. None of us want to spend our evenings sat in the dark as we did in the 1970’s or be unable to heat our homes or cook food. This is a basic need that we all have, and Governments are responsible for providing this support to the very fabric of our lives, but how?

We are reliant on either Chinese, French or American technology to build nuclear power stations and we hear that Rolls Royce might also have the technological know-how. I am sure you have an opinion on which one you would support. But here we are with various businesses experiencing major staff shortages and where is the labour coming from to build such projects?

The pandemic has forced many to consider their quality of life and the state created the right strategy in supporting businesses at the appropriate time but many older workers unhappy with the early mornings and the late evenings way of life, started to experience the importance of “time” versus “work”. Many employees embraced the home working options the pandemic provided and many now see this as the only way that their employment will be structured in the future. This as I predicted last year has placed employers under pressure to consider change and has likely encouraged manual workers who were unable to take advantage of home working to consider new careers that can.

We have in the UK a rich tapestry of different people from various backgrounds that make our society equally rich in capability and unfortunately the Blair government particularly with their mantra that everyone should go to university, has demonstrated a basic misconception that every form of employment requires someone with a degree. It’s great today to see that Universities are now offering Degree Apprenticeships which firstly mean students are freed from Student loans and secondly enables the qualifications provided to harmonise with the employer’s needs. But what about the Vocational Skills required? I have written about the unfairness of Maths and English GCSE’s preventing apprenticeships here and I am delighted to see the announcement by the Skills Minister Alex Burghart that this has now been taken into account where he states

“We are changing English and Maths requirements for those Level 2 apprentices who start with the lowest level of prior attainment in English and Maths. People who start a L2 apprenticeship without L1 English and Maths will no longer need to automatically attempt L2 English and Maths tests to complete their apprenticeship. It will mean that thousands of L2 apprentices can focus on securing a L1 English and Maths qualification with only those who are ready to take the Level 2 tests attempting them.”

This is truly a bold step in exactly the right direction to engage more people in Apprenticeships, but what are we able to deliver in our Schools and Colleges that would make a fundamental difference to the skills base that we need, following the decisions made by workers leaving their roles, post pandemic. Personally, I believe we should start by attracting the Skilled operative that has decided to retire early and encourage them into our classrooms to help train those that are starting out. The Skilled technician still has a role in training others, and we need a scheme to attract these people into the training workplace. We already have the courses available to help them understand the teaching process, but we need incentives to capture their skills for the greater good.

We also need a very clear understanding of the actual skills required across the country where there will be a serious shortage and a clear programme of resupplying the workforce with these skills such that we do not experience a prolonged shortage. I feel that we will need to see the re-emergence of Skills Training Centres across the regions to make further inroads into these. We also require a recognition by government that the cost of provision of vocational skills is often 2 to 3 times greater than a classroom-based qualification, so that Colleges are encouraged to promote these courses and recover the cost for doing so.

We have the opportunity with Ministers willing to recognise change and we have the perfect narrative around the concept of “Levelling Up”. Now is the time to make a difference.

Adrian Hawkins OBE

About the Author
Adrian Hawkins OBE was awarded his honour by the Queen in the 2021 New Years Day Honours list for his services to business. A lifetime businessman, Adrian Chairs biz4Biz a business support organisation which he founded 11 years ago to create a business network in the Home Counties. Adrian is also the Managing Director of Welding World, Chairman of the Hertfordshire LEP Skills and Employment Board and Chairman of the Stevenage Development Board. Adrian has 40 years’ experience in the world of business.

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