Building bridges to close the skills gap – London First’s Skilling London series
1 October 2019
As we navigate our way through Brexit and beyond, we’ve been bringing together business, education and government leaders on a mission to grow London’s talent and skills base. This work is at the heart of London First’s newly launched Skilling London workshop series, with invaluable support from Lloyds Banking Group.
Marking one year on from London First’s Employment and Skills Action Plan, Skilling London launched with Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Skills. The first workshop reiterated that collaboration is critical in meeting London’s skills needs now and in the future.
It was recognised that there is a misalignment between what the economy needs in and what the education and skills system is delivering. With skills shortages proving to be an ongoing headache (75% of businesses are struggling to meet their skills needs, according to London First research), business agreed that the onus is on them to better articulate their longer-term skills needs. It was also established that further devolution of skills funding and powers to London could help deliver a more joined up and better targeted skills system.
Our working breakfast a week later brought senior leaders in business and education together with policymakers to take a deep dive into London’s current and future workforce challenges and explore what good collaboration looks like and how we deliver it.
London First’s Executive Director for Skills, Mark Hilton, set the scene by highlighting that business and training providers are already doing a lot; the challenge is to build and scale up good practice in a collaborative way and not necessarily add new initiatives to an already crowded and complex system. Good collaboration can mean a win-win situation: skills programmes can be more targeted to better meet business demand and done in a more cost effective and joined up way that learners can better engage with.
London’s leaders discussed what’s already being done to build skills across their organisations and brought to light their delivery challenges, including:
The Apprenticeship system deters rather than helps employers in taking on more apprentices.
A noisy skills landscape: the many intermediary bodies, similar business-led skills programmes and overlaps in training provision means lots of money, time and resource is being spent on duplicative activity targeted at common skills challenges, but without enough success. The system has become fragmented and competitive rather than collaborative and hard to navigate.
The threat of automation: businesses are becoming more automated, putting jobs at risk. Many Londoners will need support to re-train or upskill.
The shortage of quality trainers and lack of resources to deliver these programmes are also adding to the problem.
Lack of investment in employability: young people often have the level of technical skill required, but their lack of transferable ‘soft’ skills is preventing them from getting through the door for interview. The system is not teaching a growth mindset that many employers are now demanding.
Employers tend to focus their skills outreach work on inner London, meaning potential talent in the outer boroughs is missing out.
Young people need help to better understand the link between career options and the skills and training they need to get there. Conversely, they need help to recognise the value of the skills they have and where they could apply them.
There was clear consensus on the need for business, education and government to work together on a long-term strategy and practical actions to tackle the capital’s skills gap. Participants pointed to the need for:
Better information sharing: we need a platform that maps training opportunities and schemes available for young people all in one place. This would also help government, business and education and training providers learn what’s already being delivered and avoid duplicating efforts.
Better articulation of business skills needs so that skills programmes can be more targeted.
More collaboration between sectors: Business needs to work more closely with schools to deliver digital and employability skills training.
More investment in diversity: Business and training providers need to invest in role models and trainers who can inspire young Londoners from different backgrounds into work. Business could work more sustainably with existing local grassroots organisations to better reflect community diversity.
A reformed apprenticeship system that is easy to navigate for young people looking for on-the-job training opportunities and delivers a return for employers investing through the levy.
The next workshop in the series will take the conversation further by asking: what in-demand skills do we need to develop for London’s current and future workforce?
These discussions will help us produce a series report with clear recommendations for government, business and education providers.