Clive Memmott, chief executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, writes: I firmly believe radical, sustainable change is generally brought about by working effectively with the organisations that already exist, not just by inventing, abolishing and reinventing new ones.
This of course means we have to challenge ourselves to work in a very different and more collaborative manner; flexible, agile collaborations is the way forward. Easy to say but hard to do. Are skills shortages created by a failing system or business failing to invest? The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.
I will not support an approach that says that the current system is completely unresponsive to the needs of employers and to the needs of young people and adults. There’s clearly lots of room for improvement, as there is in any organisation or service, but there is also some excellent provision. Neither teachers, training providers, lecturers or employers alone can provide the solution but they can both make a significant contribution to progress if we really want them to.
Different issues require different solutions; we must take a more intelligent and differentiated approach to this as we must to the skills system as a whole. Government has a bad habit of calling things by the wrong name. HS2 is a classic example but hot on the heels of this is the Employer Ownership of Skills (EOS) and the Employer Ownership Pilots.
These brands communicate the wrong emphasis. I can categorically say that employers do not have the slightest interest in owning the skills system. What we do want to do is influence it and participate in making it more effective in responding to our needs.
The Richard Review made some very welcome recommendations in shifting influence and funding towards employers but is ‘light’ in relation to how we engage large numbers of SMEs and silent on the vital role of the intermediary and the system required to make this happen. Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) and EOS projects were primarily targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who are not using and/or getting what they want from the skills system.
The idea is very simple, just connect employers better with the skills market, make it easy for them to identify what they need, help them access it if it’s available, create new provision if the need is viable and help them purchase this effectively. GIF funding enabled us to create the infrastructure required to service large numbers of SMEs in a diverse range of sectors.
We established Employer Skills Groups (ESGs) for targeted sectors providing the forum to articulate the skills and competencies that SMEs need to develop and grow, SMEs that don’t have the resource, the project management skills, expertise, time, desire or confidence to do it all themselves.
If we don’t make this easy for them, the penetration rate will remain poor in 95 per cent of the market.
All our EOS money is used to develop and buy the training that the employers identify that their sectors need. All the buying decisions are made by employers, helped, facilitated and managed by ourselves through a dozen ESGs. The range of activities include: A new hospitality apprenticeship which is on track to deliver 130 apprenticeships; 40 apprenticeships (working with internationally renowned Swedish gaming company PlaygroundSquad) in game design, game programming and game art; a paralegal apprenticeship programme which has employed 46 legal services apprentices across a dozen law firms, and our construction pipeline analysis which has led to the development of a Level 2/3 construction management apprenticeship for site-based supervisors and team leaders. The EOS Pilot enabled us to do this and we must learn from, and build on this success, and mainstream this approach.
I naturally welcome the government’s intention to implement an employer led funding model by 2017/18. This policy will increasingly gather pace whoever is in power.
As ever, the devil is in the detail and we must create a system that helps our SMEs to define and access the skills they require in a simple and transparent manner and enables them to buy at a competitive rate. I
f we don’t help them to do this effectively, we will let them down and damage the future competitiveness of our economy.