by Joanne Caddy
Senior Analyst, Skills Beyond Schools Division, Directorate for Education
Upon entering the vast hall, I was first struck by the quiet concentration etched on the contestants’ faces amidst the hustle and bustle. Here gathered Britain’s best young professionals – each one determined to prove their skill as tile-layers, electricians, plumbers, make-up artists, web designers, IT technicians, mobile robotics designers and landscape gardeners. Each one going for gold at the UK Skills Show, held annually as part of WorldSkills International to celebrate skilled young people and recognise the ‘skills stars’ of today and tomorrow.
Earlier that day, in a far smaller room, another group of people had been equally intent in exploring the other side of the skills equation.
In his opening address to the UKCES-OECD international workshop on “Employer Ownership: Strengthening Partnerships to Enhance Skills Investment”, the UK Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP underscored the urgent need to upgrade Britain’s skills against the backdrop of the global race to develop and deploy the talent needed in an innovation-driven economy. In launching the second round of the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot, he called upon businesses to form partnerships and put forward ambitious and transformative proposals which use public funds to leverage private investment and deliver training more attuned to the needs of both businesses and people. For Minister Hancock this investment of £250 million is worth every penny, because “skills bring a better job for the individual and a job done better for the employer – but also for society.” Having kicked off the workshop, he then headed off to tour the Skills Show himself and try his hand at one of the many “Have a Go” sessions.
Meanwhile, back at the workshop a great line-up of speakers shared their tips on how to build solid skills partnernships in practice. Jaguar Land Rover took about two years to build a network of universities to deliver targeted courses for their staff as part of their Technical Accreditation Scheme – an effort which was described as: “even harder than building great cars”. Credit Suisse now offers 750 apprentices in banking and IT systems, adopting a “just-in-time” learning concept where: “you learn what you need in practice, and then you practice what you learned at your workplace.” In The Netherlands, the newly established Foundation for Cooperation between Vocational Education, Training and the Labour Market (SBB) brings together employers, government and vocational education and training (VET) institutions to jointly develop VET qualifications, work placements and career guidance.
The OECD Skills Strategy provided a useful framework for the lively small group discussions which followed. They delivered concrete priorities for action, such as: changing the funding system to drive behaviour; strong leadership among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to ensure their skill needs are met; and building a sustainable skills system through strong partnerships between business, government and other stakeholders. As our team leading the OECD Skills Beyond Schools country reviews could confirm, few, if any, of the issues raised during the workshop are unique to the UK, but are to be found in many other OECD countries.
Strengthening national skills systems may take sustained efforts, but much is at stake. Judging by the young contestants at work in that huge hall last week, our future is in very skilled hands indeed.