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7th February 2024

New framework to boost access to skills and jobs

The British Chambers of Commerce People and Work report outlines a 10-point plan to boost workforce skills, by supporting people at every stage of their journey through education and employment.

Among the recommendations to politicians are:

  • An industrial strategy that is fit for purpose.
  • Funding a business support service to help employers identify, plan and invest in workforce skills.
  • More investment to make Careers Information, Education and Guidance a mainstream priority for school leaders.
  • Recognition of employers who invest in workplace training, through the tax and procurement systems, and a new skills investment kitemark.
  • Boost in-work progression through better access to apprenticeships and learning pathways and by reducing barriers to work.
  • Reduce the burden and costs on employers who need to access the immigration system for global talent.

The ‘People and Work’ report is being published at an event hosted by Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, taking place on Wednesday 7th February at the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

It is the second of five policy documents being published by the BCC’s new Business Council as part of the ‘Future of Economy’ project. The report draws on expertise from businesses of all sizes and sectors, academia and think-tanks.

It identifies that ‘the UK’s labour market is at a crossroads’, with vacancies well above pre-pandemic levels, sitting at around one million, and skills shortages still hampering growth. Looking ahead it says, ‘the workplace is changing, and so are the skills required to navigate it’.

The role of government is crucial in tackling the skills crisis and the report makes clear ‘business needs an industrial strategy that is fit for purpose’.

It also calls for better skills planning at a national, local, employer and individual level, including longer term investment in Local Skills Improvement Plans.  It says ‘short-term policies’ from a national level are holding regions back.

It outlines how more investment in high quality impartial careers education will ‘overcome cultural stereotypes, increase diversity and improve opportunities’. It should be a ‘mainstream priority for school leaders, embedded in every part of the curriculum’.

The People and Work group acknowledge the crucial role of apprenticeships in tackling skills shortages and creating opportunities for individuals.  Calling for reforms to the system, the report says while the apprenticeship levy ‘has increased funding and helped improve quality’, levy paying employers often struggle with the inflexibility of the levy, ‘finding it more akin to a tax’.

To support businesses and economic growth when employers have done all they can to recruit and train locally, the report calls for an ‘effective immigration system’, while ‘addressing systemic skills shortages across the domestic labour market’.

The report concludes, ‘as increased digitisation, automation and greener policies change our workplaces, government and employers need do to more to help individuals overcome barriers, gain a better balance of academic and technical skills, a hunger for lifelong learning and more personal resilience and flexibility’.

Martha Lane Fox, President of the British Chambers of Commerce and Chair of the Business Council, said:

“Attracting and retaining people with the right skills is crucial for business. But far too many firms are currently struggling to do that. At the British Chambers of Commerce, we hear directly how this is damaging firms’ ability to meet order books, take on new work and operate profitably. It’s also impacting on the workload and morale of staff.

“We face a huge challenge in the workforce. We need to focus on recruitment, retaining and retraining. This report sets out a holistic approach that is extremely action-oriented.

“A long-term industrial strategy from Government needs to be underpinned by changes to local skills provision, a more flexible apprenticeship levy, better careers education and an immigration system that works for business.”

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, Chair of the ‘People and Work Challenge Group’, said:

“To grow our economy we need more skilled, engaged and motivated people to contribute to the workforce.

“The barriers that block people’s access to great and rewarding jobs are also the barriers to economic growth. Our report clearly shows how those barriers can be overcome. Businesses must be able to harness the skills, creativity and potential of everyone who wants to work.

“Over the past few months, it has been a privilege to lead discussions between businesses, stakeholders and Chamber representatives on these important issues.

“We now urge all politicians to use our recommendations as a blueprint for boosting skills and putting the economy on a strong footing for the many opportunities ahead.”

Rt Hon Baroness Nicky Morgan, Former Education Secretary, said:

“If we get education and skills right – people and business flourish. It enables us all to play our part in a thriving economy. This report from the BCC powerfully highlights the role both government and employers have, in supporting people on their learning and work journeys.

“It comes at a crucial time, as companies are crying out for more people to join the workforce with the right skills. We need to urgently break down the barriers that prevent people from achieving their full potential in the workplace.

“The UK is one of the largest and most innovative economies in the world. But that will only continue if education and skills remain a top priority for policymakers. This report is an excellent blueprint to show how business and Government can work together to deal with the current challenges and future opportunities.”

Phil Kenmore, Director Corporate Development and Partnerships, The Open University – and member of the People and Work Challenge Group, said:

“Through our close partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce, The Open University has actively contributed to this report, sharing more than five decades of experience in working with the business community to develop skills for work through the delivery of high quality, lifelong learning to individuals.

“We strongly support the report’s narrative that skills development should be seen by business leaders as an investment and not a cost, and that businesses, particularly smaller employers, need support and funding to strategically develop the skills they need.

“There is a long-term, embedded skills gap which holds back the economy, and the report correctly places lifelong training and education as central to tackling this structural issue. The Open University has a proven track record in collaborating with employers across the public, private and third sectors in delivering a range of flexible learning pathways.

“These partnerships, which span across all four nations of the UK, have proved crucial for organisations looking to make the shift from simply recruiting new talent, towards developing their own more diverse, skilled workforces – driving retention in the process. We hope this report helps to open up these opportunities to more workers at all levels and all ages, and that the recommendations are heeded by current and future governments.”

Daniel Fell, Chief Executive, Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, and member of the ‘People and Work Challenge Group’, said:

“South Yorkshire, like all parts of the UK, has its challenges in relation to skills.  However, as a consequence of devolution, through new institutions such as University Technical Colleges and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Training Centre, and agile partnerships formed through the development of a new Local Skills Improvement Plan, our region has proven that it can work together to meet the complex needs of local employers. Indeed, South Yorkshire’s approach to skills has been pivotal in recently attracting new investors to the region such as Hybrid Air Vehicles.

“In South Yorkshire we are proving that regional players can work together to deliver the skills that local employers covet. However, we could go further and faster with some shifts in government policy and with further devolution. This report sets out a number of ways in which that could happen to the benefit of SMEs in places like South Yorkshire and beyond.”

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said:

“Skills and recruitment continue to be the primary issue for businesses as they struggle to get the right staff and the right training to meet their order books and grow their businesses. Our work through local Chambers across the country has highlighted critical skills gaps in sectors such as hospitality, care, manufacturing and construction, that are holding our businesses and entrepreneurs back.

“Only by giving firms the staff and skills they need to thrive will we start to see the national economy grow. So, we welcome the recommendations of this report which builds on the findings of our local skills improvement plans. It looks beyond our current domestic workforce and highlights the need for devolved skills budgets. It needs businesses at the heart of the planning process and companies working with providers to deliver flexible, business focused training.”

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