Led by ICAEW and Centre for Cities, the discussion, part of the Budget 2012: Prioritising Skills for Growth held on 22 February considered what role business should play in education and training. It recommended a change in approach geared towards supporting life-long learning, earlier careers advice and better links between the state, educational establishments and employers, which are all key to ensuring a highly skilled and motivated workforce.
Research from Centre for Cities, Learning Curve: Schooling and Skills for Future Jobs, shows that between 2007 and 2010 almost 50% of pupils based in UK cities left the education system without A* to C grades in Maths and English. The proportion is higher in struggling cities.
This has implications not just for young people but for the cities’ economies since their local businesses don’t have access to the pool of skills they need.
“What we need is an active and intelligent government that has the ability to nudge the system in the right direction,” said Gordon Marsden MP, the shadow minister for business, innovation and skills and a guest speaker. “To have a highly-skilled workforce, we need government to foster an environment that encourages business growth and the development of people’s skills, which go hand in hand.”
He criticised the speed with which the government abolished regional development agencies in 2011 and with them the links that had been created over many years between further education and the business community. Local enterprise partnerships had not been given adequate tools to take up where the RDAs had left off, he added.
Marsden welcomed the increasing emphasis on encouraging apprenticeships and urged small and medium-sized businesses to go down the route.
Apprenticeships do have their controversial side, however. Some people saw them being pushed to the fore at the expense of graduates, because businesses can take teenagers at an earlier age and mould them to requirements. All agreed that it was important to ensure that access to education and training should remain open for all and that people in their 20s or older should not be charged fees for retraining.
And they welcomed business’ increasing interest in getting involved in the educational process. As Mark Protherough, ICAEW’s learning and professional development executive director, pointed out: “The nation’s future depends on our willingness today to create a new educational partnership, one that raises academic expectations of all children and provides them with the skills, tools and resources needed to help them compete successfully.
“If the UK is not just to compete but also to succeed in the global environment, we must incentivise and support our schools and students with the skills that drive our economy.”
For copies of the research, visit centreforcities.org/learningcurve