Last month, the Levelling Up Commission hosted three back-to-back panel sessions, all of which were centred around different facets of education and inequalities in the sector. Part one looked at SEND and pupil premium while part two the conversation moved on to higher education and how outcomes differ for disadvantaged students.
The third and final panel session to take place was about the employment gaps in the skills sector across the country. Once again, this session was hosted by Paula Sheriff, the former Shadow Minister for Social Care and Mental Health, and Women and Equalities. She was joined by two experts in the field – Emma Roberts and Kate Shoesmith.
Emma Roberts is the Director of External Affairs at WorldSkills UK while Kate Shoesmith is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation so they were both well placed to offer their opinions on how we, as a country, can improve the skillsets of young workers.
The first panellist to speak was Emma Roberts, who informed the commission of the work that WorldSkills UK have been undertaking in recent times to try and improve the skills of young people in the country.
Roberts spoke about how the organisation looks to “raise standards” in technological education and apprenticeships through “international benchmarking and best practice.” One way in which they do this is by looking after a “Team UK” in a competition known as the Skills Olympics. Roberts said:
“We are part of a big international organisation which has more than 80 country members and that organisation is famous for putting on the Skills Olympics every two years. This competition features thousands of young people all over the world competing in their skill/profession to be crowned the best in the world.
“These areas cover every sector you can think of from cyber security to hospitality and it’s a competition that allows young people to excel internationally. We are the government’s representative and we put forward young people who go through our programmes to represent us on the global stage.
As well as training Team Uk, we are using the experience at these Olympics to bring back knowledge to help thousands more young people get a leg up in their technical training.
“We do that through a programme called “The Centres of Excellence” which provides continuous development training to educators in the UK. 28 of our 42 centres are based in priority one areas in the levelling up agenda so that means we are helping young people in the most deprived areas.”
While the Skills Olympics is a great opportunity for those who get to go and compete, Roberts says that the knowledge and information that they gain from attending is also invaluable. She said:
“We gain an understanding of the divide between where we are as a country in terms of skills and where other countries are across the world. We know from countries in Asia and Continental Europe, for example, that the bridge between their national standards and international standards is smaller than the UK.
“Historically we have been satisfied with young people just becoming competition in a certain trade whereas in other countries, there’s a greater level of pride in those trades and they aim for a level of excellence. What’s happened over several decades is that the gap has widened because our standards haven’t kept pace with individual standards.
“To solve this we need industry and education to work closer together and learn from other countries on how they educate and inspire young people. We’ve been encouraging education leaders to focus more on practical learning, especially in vocational courses.”
As the Deputy CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, Kate Shoesmith has all the vital data to hand in relation to the demand and uptake of skill-based job vacancies in the UK.
For 25 years, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation have published a monthly report that looks at hiring trends and recruitment activity in the month just gone. Speaking about what the data currently shows, Shoesmith said:
“This is an industry that can see what’s happening in the job market from the front line and why some of these challenges matter in the here and now, not just in the future.
“We can see that candidate availability has increased over the past two and a half years but that there are still huge demands around what employers need to fill the skills gaps in their business. For example, there are 68,000 vacancies for nurses right now, 22,000 vacancies for solicitors and 31,500 vacancies for accountants. These are just a few examples.
In the first week of June, there were an additional 180,000 jobs posted online so the recruitment market is exceptionally busy, however, we just don’t have enough skilled workers to undertake the work available.”
A lack of skilled workers is alarming, and Shoesmith is hopeful that the government don’t just bury their heads in the sand and ignore it. On the flip side, she also believes that businesses have a big part to play in eradicating the issue. She said:
“Last year, we looked at economic modelling and found that by 2024, the cost of these job vacancies to the economy is £39bn. It is essential that we do something to change this and perhaps the government needs to look at it from an economic perspective.
“They have a huge part to play in this, but we also want to be clear there is a role for businesses to play, too. They need to think about partnerships with vocational providers in their communities to help young people as they start their careers.
“We need businesses to change how they think about skills – it is an investment, not a cost. If the government can provide businesses with a long-term vision for growth and development that supports them in terms of incentivising and future-proofing, then we should see more young people becoming skilled workers.”
- The Levelling Up Commission held a panel session, hosted by Paul Sheriff with experts Emma Roberts and Kate Shoesmith, which addressed skill sector employment gaps.
- Roberts, from WorldSkills UK, discussed raising standards through the Skills Olympics, fostering global skill excellence and improving UK education.
- Shoesmith, Deputy CEO of Recruitment and Employment Confederation, highlighted skill-based job demand surpassing available workers, emphasizing a £39bn cost to the economy by 2024.
- Urging action, Shoesmith noted a role for both government and businesses, urging skill investment and long-term growth support to bolster young workers’ skills.
The insights shared in the panel session highlighted the pressing need for a comprehensive approach to bridging education and skills gaps in the UK.
Emma Roberts’ emphasis on international benchmarks and practical learning underscores the urgency to align educational standards with global competitiveness while Kate Shoesmith’s data-driven perspective exposes the stark reality of skill shortages in the job market, urging collaboration between the government, businesses, and vocational providers.
Overall, it was a fascinating discussion between two experts in the skills sector and the Levelling Up Commission will now go away and analyse the points made before making recommendations to the government.