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Delivering action on the skills agenda

Mark Hilton, Skills and Employment Director, London First

Today was Skills Friday for London First.  At our flagship Skills London event – the UK’s largest jobs and skills event – we delivered real action on the skills agenda which is so important to London business.

Against the backdrop of the 50,000 job and apprenticeship opportunities on offer at Skills London, we took major strides to help shape skills policy in London over the next ten years: the launch of the Mayor’s draft Skills and Adult Education Strategy for London, and a meeting of our London Skills Commission, jointly with the Deputy Mayor for Skills.

By bringing together young Londoners, business leaders, politicians, policy makers and educationalists, we had the right people in one place to drive forward our skills mission. Our ambition is two-fold: first, to get more Londoners equipped with the skills that business needs both now and in the future; and second, to make it easier for business to work with the skills system, to help drive jobs and growth.

The will is high but the challenge is big. Our Skills Commission has been gathering evidence over the last few months on the skills and work challenges that London employers are facing, and it’s clear there’s a large mountain to climb. Uncertainty is at levels perhaps not seen for generations, and policy and socio-demographic change is significant.  Now we have this evidence, we are thinking about the action that government, skills providers, and business can take to address the challenges head on.  It’s worth setting out three of the issues our Commission looked at:

First, apprenticeships. We heard the startling news that since the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April of this year, apprenticeship numbers in the UK have fallen by 59%.  Getting the levy fit for purpose for business is crucial, but it is achievable.  Our Commission agreed to make this one of our priority commitments, and we discussed with Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor, how we might develop a plan of swift action where we can work together to press Government to introduce flexibilities on how the levy can be used.  We are keen for ideas from London First members, we are hosting a member workshop in early January.

Second, is the megatrend of job automation, and how this is beginning to pick up pace.  There are conflicting views on what affect automation will have on the jobs of Londoners.  It seems certain that in the short run at least, we can expect many Londoners currently working in low or mid skilled roles will be at risk of redundancy over the next few years as a direct result of new AI technology.  The key question is, how can our Skills Commission help to address the big ‘re-training challenge for London’?  To help us develop our understanding of the issues, we will be visiting the Advanced Manufacturing Centre in Coventry in the new year, and holding member workshops in the new year.

And third, skills devolution.  In September 2019, the Mayor is expected to take charge of the £400m adult education skills budget for London and we are helping to mould the strategy for how this money will be used. We explored with Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe what else could usefully be devolved to the Mayor; for example, would the Mayor taking responsibility for the apprenticeship levy in London be a good thing?  How might this work for London First members who operate across the UK, and may not want to navigate a different set of skills rules in each region?  We’ll be looking at what ‘good devolution’ looks like, so that it can best give Londoner’s employers the skills they need, in a simple and flexible way.

Finally, our Commission has started to scope out what action London First can take working with London business, to drive London’s business skills.  We are looking at ways to make it very simple for business to engage effectively with schools and colleges, to give young learners the encounters they need to go on to a successful job and career.  Watch this space.

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