Date: 25th October 2016
My son is a Digital Native. As I watch him rout me at Super Mario Kart for the third time this evening, I accept that he will be always be at home with computers, code and sub-menus, while I will always struggle to install the latest software update on my phone.
But that is to be expected. Technology changes skills and the world must adapt. This is a healthy part of progress. However, progress can sometimes be held-up by too much change. Unfortunately, this has been the case in the world of skills and further education in recent years. One of my favourite pieces of research from recent years was an excellent study of skills policy by City and Guilds called Sense and Instability. Writing in 2014, the report noted that skills policy had skipped between different government departments 10 times and suffered 13 major Acts of Parliament since the 1980s, while enjoying the attention of 61 Secretaries of State over 30 years. Following recent reshuffles and recent initiatives such as the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, the Sainsbury Technical Review and the Area Based Reviews, these numbers are now hopelessly out of date. As a skills practitioner, academic and government labour market economist of 20 years plus, I could now fill this column with sage and wise words about the fallacies of following a neo-conservative inspired skills policy and focusing on institutional change rather than quite obvious market failures. I will not do this. Instead I will share some practical advice for local decision makers wading into the skills arena for the first time. This is borne from Regeneris’ own experience of working for LEPs and local authorities throughout the country and much teeth gnashing and lessons learned.
Tip #1 – Why don’t you communicate with employers?
This means talking and listening to what businesses say. There is no substitute for speaking with people who know what they are talking about. When we did the recent Science Industry Skills Strategy with Cogent, our first port of call were the drugs makers and chemicals firms rather than the providers. This meant detailed one to one conversations with plant managers, scientists and senior decision makers from across the globe.
Tip #2 – Communicate with learners
Our work in West Dorset showed how important these insights could be. We learned lot about the importance of aspirations and role models, as well as the importance of more mundane issues such as reliable and affordable public transport in rural areas. It also helps us understand where mismatches may occur between what learners want to do, and what employers need.
Tips #3 – Get employers leading the work
A public sector led skills initiative will struggle without leadership from local businesses. This is because however good you think you are, employers pay more attention to their peers. An organisation like The Science Industry Partnership is making a real difference because of the credibility of the SMEs and multinationals who have been shaping the organisation from the beginning.
Tip#4 – Get providers talking to employers
Businesses need to work in partnership with local colleges, HEIs and schools. Sometimes this can be a struggle, but in the Marches and our recent work for the Midlands Engine we were pleasantly surprised how enthusiastic employers and providers were to work together.
Tip #5 – Surveys are not the only thing that ‘counts’
Surveys are useful tools, particularly in understanding the local business base, but they are not a substitute for consultation and wider communication. While Regeneris has had great success with delivering local skills surveys, they are only one part of the solution. Surveys should be analysed, put into context and built upon.
Tip # 6 – understand your policy levers
Canute couldn’t hold back the tide. You can’t hold back the Department for Education and Skills. Neither can you set national tax policy, change interest rates or raise millions of pounds of capital funding for local colleges (unless you are really good). Don’t raise false expectations and do focus on those things you can actually deliver. After losing to my son at Super Mario Kart for the fifth time, I took my revenge in the (real) bowling alley the following day. This shows that despite the growing importance of the digital workplace, the existing labour workforce and practical experience still have something to offer. We should embrace the thinking and ideas which relate to excitingly different technologies and ways of working, but we should not discard the hard-won experience of the past. We should also recognise that ten-year olds have some things to learn yet.
If you have any questions about our skills and labour market work, please contact Stephen Rosevear email@example.com
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