The higher education sector needs a clear strategy from government to help close the skills gap – Ann Marie Spry


Our country and our region are at a critical point with a recession looming over us. Against the backdrop of a climate crisis and a cost of living crisis, we are surrounded by a series of emergencies with no visible strategy or plan to help us come together to navigate and survive what is to come.

With unemployment expected to double by 2025, the coming recession is expected to add to the mix of crises. We need to help prepare people, so that they are in the best possible position to get through such a turbulent time. And it all comes down to skills and ensuring that people have the right skills that can be easily transferred to other jobs if laid off.

Education, in particular lifelong learning, has been at the heart of the skills agenda for some time, but now needs more attention. For years, industry leaders have cried out about missed opportunities by not adequately funding this part of the education ecosystem. As the country enters a new crisis, those working in higher education are already planning how they can respond and support the communities they serve.

Higher education institutions such as those in the Luminate Education group are well equipped and versed in supporting the regional skills agenda. This has already been seen in preparing people to take on clinical support worker roles in the NHS, developing social workers for the welfare sectors and training specialists in engineering and cybersecurity.

Leeds City College is part of the Luminate Education Group.

But what we need from our government is a clear and understandable strategy to help us deal with what is to come. And it must be delivered in a way that leaves no one behind. Colleges are uniquely positioned to facilitate and advance skills plans because they already have strong relationships with employers and are well connected in their localities.

Continuing education is a hidden gem in society, and due to a lack of understanding of its depth and scope, it is often overlooked as a viable part of the solution. Given the need to act quickly to ensure that we effectively prepare people for austerity, many in the sector are now aggressively engaging with government to ensure action is taken.

It is the low-skilled population that will be hardest hit, during and after the recession. And they are not ready to deal with this. They will be forced to accept even lower-skilled jobs, leaving significant gaps in the labor market that, if left unaddressed, will present obstacles for the country and region as it moves forward with its growth, climate and ambitions. of leveling.

Our concern is that the jobs crisis will be ignored while other crises unfold around it. Looking at our area we can predict that some neighborhoods are likely to suffer more than others due to historically lower skill levels and more adults without higher level GCSE Maths and English meaning that a more concerted plan is needed to target specific areas.

We need longer-term strategies from government that will genuinely address the low skills of those most vulnerable to unemployment.

There must be tailored training plans to upskill and reskill, which actually invest in the basic skills required as the foundations for skills development with a targeted labor market policy that connects workers to the right skills and brings together training providers and employers.

Investing in the deployment of more Institutes of Technology (IoT) is only part of the solution and will only solve some aspects of the problems we face. Despite the austerity that many will experience, we must not lose sight of how we can shape the future of skills.

If nothing is done, an extremely difficult battle will await us, prolonging the impact of the recession. It takes time to acquire skills and transfer them to other sectors, but continuing education providers can be the solution. They are already established and operating under this model of meeting skills needs and working closely with employers.

If the government can pull together around this issue and seek to positively support this way of working, then we can expect to see a much less uphill battle ahead of us. Getting to work now to provide sensible solutions is an integral part of damage control.

Not only will this prepare us for the inevitable recession, but it will also help us better respond to the climate emergency, the cost of living crisis and the race to the top.

On this last point, the Learning and Work Institute recently published a report highlighting the gap between the best and worst performing regions of England in terms of participation in adult education. And this is just one example of the gap that continues to widen between north and south, jeopardizing the government’s race-to-the-top plans.

Ann Marie Spry is deputy director of the Luminate Education Group, which includes Leeds City College and Harrogate College.

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