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Capital needs to unite on Skills and Employment agenda

John Allan, Chairman London First and Chair of Employment & Skills Commission

Last year I made it my priority as Chairman of London First, to bring together business leaders from a cross section of key sectors, to form a Skills and Employment Commission.  We tasked ourselves with helping to improve the skills system in our capital. We’ve taken evidence, visited state of the art colleges, and surveyed industry. It’s been a fascinating challenge, and today we put the results out.

My ambition has been to encourage business to do much more to bolster the talent pipeline. Long before we reached today’s low levels of unemployment, skills shortages were concerning business. In 2004, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown commissioned Lord Leitch to make recommendations for turning the UK in to a world leader on skills. In his final report, Leitch warned that failure to invest properly in the system would lead to, ‘a lingering decline in competitiveness, diminishing economic growth, and a bleaker future’. And that bleaker future did not anticipate the Brexit vote, a weaker pound, and improved economic conditions elsewhere in Europe.

These developments have begun to deter the migrant workers on whom the UK has come to depend on to fill vacancies – the most glaring range across hospitality, construction, finance, and most dramatically perhaps, healthcare. It is abundantly clear that business did not address the challenge boldly enough in 2004, and as the UK’s departure from the Single Market draws ever closer, it must now do so.

Apprenticeship apprehension  

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum revealed that in order to future-proof our careers from automation we need to become, ‘creative, curious, agile life-long learners, comfortable with continuous change’. The onus to adapt in such a way should not fall solely on individuals. Government, and not least employers, must collaborate to help people re-skill. Apprenticeships are proving a popular route with business. However, the levy introduced to incentivise business to invest more in skills training is proving sub-optimal in its operation. Only 30% of respondents to our survey think the apprenticeship levy is working well, with many wanting increased flexibility in how the levy is apportioned.

The right solutions?

Our Commission has now set out its recommendations for how the levy can be improved, together with a range of other initiatives, in a report that is open for consultation until 4 April.

To be complacent about the state of affairs, is to collude in the threats to our future economic prosperity. It is imperative we have as wide a response to our proposals as possible. Please make this a priority and I look forward to receiving your views and your support in taking this to the next stage. The time has come for us to step up and fix the skills system.


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