My business is brewing. At Brains Brewery we recognise that innovation is essential for long term success. We operate a micro-brewery in which our brewers have the freedom to be bold and imaginative. The craft beers they produce are then sampled in a select few of our pubs and, if they sell well, we upscale production to our main brewery. It is because of this freedom to innovate that many of our best-sellers exist today.
The Futures Programme that UKCES launched in May is an opportunity to apply the principles of innovation and testing to the skills system. We have a portfolio of competitions across industries and themes. Our first, launched in May, looked at skills in the off-site construction industry. Our second, recently launched, will look at leadership and management in four more sectors: manufacturing, construction, legal and accounting services, and financial services. While the UK has world-leading businesses in all these sectors, it also has a long tail of firms where management capability falls short. This is where we want to test new solutions; with a prime business in the lead we want to spread best practice through supply chains. When firms adopt best management practice they see large improvements in performance.
These aren’t easy problems to fix – if they were, they wouldn’t be so persistent – but we believe that there is a best way to make progress: employers are closest to the the problem should be given space to imagine and develop solutions and the tools to try them out and learn from the results.
I like to imagine each competition like a microbrewery, allowing ideas to fizz and ferment. We’re keen to learn both from what works and what doesn’t work as expected. UKCES will be on hand to support employers throughout the process, utilizing our significant experience working alongside employers to fix skills problems. My fellow Commissioners will be involved at every stage and will bring their expertise to bear. In addition, we will use public funds to mitigate risks and encourage the most innovative solutions. Employers engaging with our competitions will have a unique opportunity to solve problems undermining their growth potential. Let me be frank: not all of these projects might work. But, if some of them don’t, we will have lost little but learned much.
If this all seems a little abstract, it’s because the competitions cover such a range of distinct areas that little will be true of all of them. For me, that is what makes the Futures Programme so exciting. We are going to target diverse problems across multiple sectors, engaging a range of employers to develop numerous potential solutions. We are going to find out what does and does not work, and we will use that knowledge to transform future policy and practice.
At Brains Brewery we know that the ingredients of success are innovation and evaluation. For the first time, these will be at the heart of our approach to solving skills problems. I look forward to seeing the results of the Future Programme’s craft.