Last week the 157 Group launched their latest report ‘Future Colleges – rising to the skills challenge’, calling for colleges to play a leading role in local skills systems by forming strong links with businesses, Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities to maximise resources, meet local demand and reduce unemployment.
The findings are welcome news for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and highlight the vital role colleges can play in tackling a number of the enduring skills challenges facing our economy.
The skills picture is complex. UKCES data shows that up to one in five vacancies exist because businesses cannot find people with the right skills, qualifications or experience for a particular role. But paradoxically, there are also issues with employers underutilising the skills of their existing workforce. The UKCES Employer Skills Survey 2013 found that 16 per cent of the workforce, or 4.3 million workers, had skills and qualifications above those required by their current role, and 48 per cent of businesses reported skills under-utilisation.
In addition, the UK faces a labour market where those in low skilled work are being prevented from progressing upwards in their careers due to a lack of middle-skill opportunities. This ‘squeezed middle’ restricts the flow of talent upwards, preventing a steady stream of talent in to higher skilled roles.
These skills issues present a conundrum, and restrict UK economic growth.
Greater collaboration and stronger networks between employers and education providers can offer solutions by providing clear access to training and skills development. As well as the important role colleges play in preparing people for work, they also help employers address skills challenges for the existing workforce. Colleges that form strong links with local businesses to really understand their skills needs are well-placed to do this, as the 157 Group’s report shows.
By working collaboratively to build strong links and a constant dialogue on the supply and demand of skills, both employers and colleges can benefit from such relationships – employers gain easy access to expert training, while colleges ensure their offer is tailored to employer needs.
At the UK Commission for Employment and Skills we strongly agree with the need for greater links between education providers and businesses. Our report, ‘A new conversation: employer and college engagement’, produced in partnership with the 157 Group, and Gazelle Group of Colleges earlier this year, highlights the key characteristics of colleges which are successfully and strategically engaging with employers, while ‘Forging Futures: building higher level skills through university and employer collaboration’, published in September, offers a range of case studies showing how employer and university partnerships can bring similar gains.
I recently met with college principals and representatives to discuss the work of colleges in responding to the skills needs in their local areas and priority sectors. Their commitment to addressing skills challenges was both inspiring and infectious, and their drive and energy assures me they will be successful in their endeavours.
Later this month UKCES will be launching our "skills statement", Growth through People, examining these issues – and those affecting the UK skills system as a whole – in much greater detail.
One factor, however, is clear – combined action is the key to getting our economy back on track. By working collaboratively and building stronger networks all parties can benefit, building a more robust, profitable economy as a result.