We’ve all seen the headlines. Attended the meetings. Read the press releases. Skills matter to growth and innovation, but we haven’t been getting it right.
Gather any group of businesses together, anywhere in England, and discussion is certain to cover skills challenges. Governments of all political shades over the past 30 years have recognised this – and tried to act.
With goodwill, and with vigour, a long series of top-down reforms have been tried. And some local innovation has been developed. In patches, real progress has been made. But the overall picture has remained challenging and – worst of all – young people and retraining adults haven’t had access to a system that would help them make the most of their talents, and so increase their own and our national prosperity.
Effective skills delivery is difficult. That is why agreement on the scale of the problem is easy and why initiatives and policies too often unravel. Over the past few months, the CBI has been talking to providers, local and national government, and businesses of all sizes on what can be done. This report is the outcome of that, and builds on the recent work of the CBI on the drivers of regional growth.
And it is timely, given the rapid technological change we face, which has the potential to remake our labour market in ways which far outstrip the effects of Brexit. There is the possibility of building a country with many more higher skill, higher pay jobs if we can rise to the challenge.
Woven through all our conversations with businesses and providers were two consistent messages. Firstly, that England’s skills system needs stability – the incentives, funding and regulation it uses should act as a strategic national framework that encourages local innovation and investment.
Secondly, that all involved – business, government and providers – need to change their approach to skills provision. Investment of time, collaboration and genuine partnership are essential, and will require everyone to shift behaviour, tone and practice. Local leadership within a stable national framework is the key.
The conclusions of this report are designed to make a practical contribution on how to ensure current skills reforms can be used to drive a generational change, not just another turn of the policy wheel. The Industrial Strategy can only be successful if we get this right.
Our particular thanks go to the CBI’s project steering group – made up of businesses and providers – who guided our work with energy and enthusiasm.