For and Against: Lifelong Learning
Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning
John Hayes MP profile
John Hayes MP is the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with particular responsibility for apprenticeships, careers guidance and vocational education.
Dr Chris Young profile
Dr Chris Young is the chief executive of the ESTnet, the specialist network for the electronics, software and technology industry in Wales. She is a past chairman of West Wales branch of the IET and a founding member and past vice chairman of the UK Electronics Alliance.
Skills matter in all kinds of ways. They matter for individuals as they allow people to fulfil their potential. They matter for communities as when each feels valued, all feel valued. And they matter for Britain as we come to understand that the country’s future prosperity lies in a high-tech, highly skilled economy. And so a macro economic policy, as well as dealing with deficit and the role of government, needs to recalibrate our workforce skills in order to meet the challenge.To that end, I was appointed Minister for Skills. I see my role in developing the nation’s technology skills as central to that macro-economic purpose. That business is creating economic sustainability, plus social sustainability. I reflected on that when I went along to the WorldSkills UK 2011 event.
I won’t just say that it was impressive. It was a phenomenon in terms of scale, quality and the inspirational effect it had on all those participating in it and all those that visited it. A thousand competitors from more than 15 countries; more than 100,000 visitors. The Prime Minister came too, and was just as impressed with the immense quality of the event, calling it “the greatest skills event in modern history”.
We need to understand how powerful this is. Powerful not just because of its episodic effect, but because what it says about the power of skills to transform life, and what it says about British excellence.
Recently I was up at Halewood with Jaguar Land Rover, where I met apprentices and senior managers, and people who trained apprentices. I was struck that Britain can be a world-beater with the right product, management and skills.
Commentators often criticise my passion, my commitment for driving up skills because they have become part of – in my judgement – a very unhappy orthodoxy that assumes that the only way to achieve prowess is through academic accomplishment. All the technical, vocational, practical talents deserve their place in the sun, and WorldSkills sums that up. It shows people doing their best, making an immense contribution to who we are as a people.
That pessimism about skills is not what I see when I visit colleges or training providers around the country, which I do just about every week. I talk to employers about just how much apprentices and apprenticeships make a difference to them. I meet employers and providers who understand that by investing in skills their businesses can make a difference. The real story about skills is not to be found in the statistics but in the everyday experiences that businesses have. When they take on the right people and provide them with the right training, they can build on their productivity and they can improve their competitiveness.
So let’s be clear about that relationship, and let’s be clear that we can no longer afford not to invest in skills.
The other aspect of skills is that once they are acquired they should be managed and applied properly. There is evidence to say that this doesn’t always happen. So the role of management, not only in making the right strategic decisions when it comes to delivering skills, but also in the decisions made about providing them, is critical.
Some business people say that they’re reluctant to become involved in training because it’s easier to just go out and buy the skills they need to grow and to thrive, if necessary by looking abroad. But that’s a short-term fix not a long-term solution to Britain’s skills shortages.
I appreciate that many companies already engage apprentices in large numbers, as well as training existing staff. You know already what they can do for businesses performance and for their standing within the community. This government will offer at least 250,000 more apprenticeships over this than the previous government planned.
But with nearly one million young people not in education, employment or training, it’s clear we haven’t yet done enough.
John Hayes makes some very good points but he fails to see the whole picture. The issue is not about skills alone, but of managing the talent pool.Let me illustrate the model that I think applies specifically to the electronics industry. We know that: innovation in electronics and software drives the development of nearly every other sector of the economy; this development is very IP-intensive, making it very human-centric and arguably, globally mobile; electronics and software technologies have very short lifecycles and that new product introduction has a very short time-to-market.
So high-tech companies, by necessity, adopt the following three-step model:
1. acquire state-of-the-art skills in new technologies through external recruitment to provide competitive advantage in the short term;
2. develop their existing workforce to keep pace with this technological change in the immediate to mid term;
3. implement succession planning by nurturing the pipeline of young people entering the industry who become effective in the mid to longer term.
The challenge for both industry and government is tackling all three of these areas effectively. Starting with the pipeline of young people it is true that the announcement of support for more apprentices is welcome, but only as a stepping stone on the way to degree and post graduate qualifications or their equivalents.
Recent research which the ESTnet commissioned in Wales reported that over the next three years engineers with higher qualifications will be needed as employers look to recruit engineers with honours degrees (NQF Level 6) or even masters degrees (NQF Level 7) qualifications rather than the current demand for foundations level (NQF Level 5) engineers.
You can’t argue with a survey that covers about a third of the total workforce in this industry. So the message we would like to hear the government give is that an apprenticeship is a good step on the career ladder to both academic and vocational success at the very highest level; it is not an end in itself.
The existing workforce also deserves more attention. Trend surveys undertaken by the UK Electronics Alliance have found that, with the exception of only two quarters in the last three years, more than a fifth of companies report that skills and staff are limiting their ability to fulfil orders and contracts. As the government looks to introduce further austerity measures, surely there is a case to rebalance their skills budget to ensure that it is spent where it can make the biggest impact for the economy?
My final point is that recruitment of world-class expertise is crucial for the model for our industry. It is not a short-term fix, but an essential part of ensuring a healthy technology industry that can keep pace with the speed of technological change. The industry can’t wait for cutting-edge research to filter through into academic teaching. It’s about commercialising innovation as and when it occurs anywhere in the global village.
The UK Electronics Alliance makes a very good case for the government to review the list of technical occupations in advanced manufacturing to identify where the immigration cap is causing genuine recruitment problems. Its survey found that the immigration cap will probably not have the desired effect of employing more EEA candidates but is likely to result in the delay or cancellation of projects, a loss of competitiveness and possibly off-shoring. A substantially more worrying outcome.
The issue facing the electronics industry is broader than simply skills. We need to ensure that the talent pool of world-class expertise, our workforce and the pipeline of young people coming into the industry are all addressed so that we can maximise the effectiveness of our contribution to technological developments and the economy.
Do you agree?
Skills shortages in the UK are being properly addressed
|E&T Magazine - Debate - Skills shortages in the UK are being properly addressed||6||Reply|
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