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Beyond the soundbites. New white paper explores why skills matter individuals, the economy and society.

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A white paper published this week by Aptem says that skills need more attention and funding in UK government policymaking.

The paper, called What is to be done about the skills deficit? emerged from a webinar hosted and presented by Dr Deborah Talbot, Education and Employment Editor at Aptem, and Dr Fiona Aldridge, Director for Policy & Research at the Learning & Work Institute (L&W), in March 2021. It aimed to catalogue the core reasons why skills matter beyond the soundbites and why skills should be at the heart of government policymaking.

The white paper outlines the state of skills through a range of statistical data and outlines the three ways skills matter to individuals and the economy: business growth, economic productivity, and social justice/social mobility.

The key takeaways from the paper are that:

  • The uneasy dynamic of skills versus academic education has been endemic in the UK because of the structure of education and class contexts. However, both vocational and academic education include elements of skills training and academic learning.
  • The skills deficit is entrenched in the UK, with 40% of workers either under or overqualified for their jobs, 60% of employers saying they cannot attract employees with the skills they need and 11.7 million people in the UK lacking essential digital skills.
  • Business, particularly in the innovation and technology sectors, cannot grow unless there are sufficient skills in the UK. However, the country is still impeded by high numbers of unskilled workers, constraints on immigration and regional economic disparities.
  • Skills raise productivity levels which have a direct impact on economic growth and is intrinsically linked to what L&W call the ‘five pillars of productivity’. However, research points to a need to improve the labour market alongside skills training.
  • Skills help social mobility by offering better life chances and wages. These individual benefits impact community wellbeing and the economy through increased spending power. Skills are essential to a vision of inclusive citizenship in economic growth.

While the white paper recognises the gains of recent apprenticeship policy, the Plan for Jobs and the aspirations of the Skills for Jobs white paper, it argues that there is a policy and funding mismatch between the needs of the UK and the policies currently in process.

Moreover, it proposes we need better data to both understand the gains to the economy and individuals by enhancing skills training but also what kinds of skills training is needed.

By publishing this white paper, MWS Technology hope to make the argument that skills should be at the heart of government policy and business planning:

“…in many respects, both ideologically and in financial commitment, skills still occupy a marginal place in government plans. If the UK is to survive and thrive, that tendency needs to change, and fast. Education and skills need to be central to government plans, backed by better data to truly understand the value that skills bring.

“…as there is no ideological imperative behind not investing in education and skills, the problem may simply be an under appreciation of why skills matter. Hopefully, this white paper will help to address this gap.”

Richard Alberg, CEO of Aptem, said:

“We delighted to publish this thought leadership white paper on what should be done about the skills deficit. Although we are a company primarily involved in EdTech, we nevertheless seek to influence policy on the broader skills agenda. It is important that more voices are heard, and more stakeholders included, if we are to get skills right.

“We have applauded the government on its various initiatives around skills, but it is clear more needs to be done. We look forward to constructive engagement with central and local government and the business sector to ensure skills are given they importance they deserve.”

Click here to download this white paper in full. 

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