Employers urged to work with FE on skills gaps

Businesses call for major reform of the UK’s training system to boost productivity in a new report

Kate Parker

Skills gaps: Employers encouraged to work with FE colleges

Businesses must be placed at the heart of skills plans, and work with further education colleges to address skills shortages in local areas, according to a new report from the Workplace Training and Development Commission (WTDC) published today.

The commission was set up by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with employment website Indeed, and conducted an 18-month in-depth study of what businesses want from adult skills training provision in the UK. 

The report says that in autumn 2019 many businesses across the UK were struggling to access and retain the skills they needed, impacting on productivity and growth while, at the same time, annual business investment in training was falling year on year. It therefore calls for major reform of the UK’s training system to help businesses access the skills they need to boost productivity. 

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David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the report was a sign that employers understood and valued the importance of developing and nurturing their people and of working in partnership with colleges to support a stronger adult skills offer in every community.

"Colleges need to have more freedoms to meet local employer and learner needs, as the recent White Paper proposed. When they win those freedoms, they will be able to work in partnership with more employers through local choice of course types and modules, flexible funding mechanisms and removing barriers within the welfare system.

'Colleges need to have more freedoms'

"If the government delivers those freedoms, colleges, working with employers, will be able to unlock the potential of people needing to upgrade their skills and retrain for the jobs of the future, and those already in work who need to update their knowledge.

"As set out in the Commission on the College of the Future, employers engaging effectively with colleges will ensure the skills system delivers for the labour market, communities and people. It’s good to see this vision restated here and backed up by calls for a properly funded adult education system that will boost productivity and offer better life chances for thousands of people.”

In January, the Department for Education published the Skills for Jobs White Paper in which it proposed giving businesses a central role working with FE colleges, other providers and local stakeholders to develop new “local skills improvement plans”, which shape technical skills provision so that it meets local labour market skills needs. 

'Agile skills training system is crucial'

Jane Boardman, chair of the commission, said skills shortages have long hampered the UK economy – with employers struggling to fill job vacancies and raise productivity. 

“The workplace is rapidly becoming more digital and automated, so businesses need more people with the technical skills for these changing jobs," she said. "But too often employers cannot access the training they need and, as a result, are spending less and less on training each year.  

“The impact of the pandemic has made investing in adult skills more important than ever. Employers need a more joined-up and flexible system that can respond quickly to skills needs and opportunities.   

“The last year has seen the economy placed under the greatest strain it has experienced in decades, and the full impact on employment and growth has yet to be seen. As businesses rebuild and respond to the challenges ahead, a more agile skills training system will be crucial.”  

Today’s report reinforces these proposals and puts further education colleges at the heart of reform and collaboration, and says businesses should engage with Chambers of Commerce to access business support services and voice skills needs, as well as working with other employers, FE colleges and training providers to address skills shortages in the local area. 

The report adds that, where appropriate, businesses should identify and share best practice, information and resources on business transformation, innovation and skills, working with FE colleges, training providers, within sectors, and with other public and private sector employers in the locality. 

It also suggests that businesses should work with FE colleges, training providers and sector groups to create course content where existing provision does not meet current or future needs. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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