How to rescue the UK jobs market from disaster

Careers advice apprentices
As any plumber will tell you, if your pipework hasn’t been assembled correctly it will spring a leak and when it does, it will cause all sorts of damage.

The same has to be said of the jobs market where too many square pegs have been put in round holes, which impacts on productivity and reduces the chance for businesses to be competitive.

Training people for employment

What is the skills ceiling?

The mistakes of the past and, to be honest, the present will very quickly come home to roost if a massive change isn’t made to the way we train people for employment.

This has been brought into stark focus by a report from the Local Government Association last week, which reveals that six million people in England risk being without a job or in work, they are over-qualified for by 2030.

According to the estimates in the report, the LGA reckons that at the start of the next decade there will be 5.1 million low skilled workers for just two million low skilled jobs while, at the other end of the scale, there’ll be 17.4 million high skilled jobs with only 14.8 million people capable of filling those roles.

These are pretty scary figures and only goes to prove that the education system in this country is fundamentally flawed and has caused businesses to become the victims of a blinkered belief that driving people into higher education will lead us to economic nirvana.

Avoiding another economic meltdown

We have to balance the scales otherwise the country risks falling into a black hole of unemployment and economic failure. The LGA’s report put an eyewatering £120 billion figure on the financial loss facing the country if we don’t get our act together.

For me, there is only one solution and it’s a no brainer. To get the right fit for current and future jobs, we have to place vocational learning at the forefront of education.

Most importantly this should be apprenticeships, which are a proven, but under-appreciated and underused, opportunity to provide employers with workers that have the right skills and knowledge for their businesses.

The beauty of apprenticeships

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As a former apprentice myself I cannot speak highly enough of the benefits of on-the-job training. It has formed the core of our workforce development at Pimlico for decades producing some highly talented and loyal professionals.

We now currently have more than 60 apprentices, training across trade and office roles, who will be at the heart of our business for many years to come.

To put vocational training before academic learning the culture of the education system has to change and that includes schools where the curriculum must have greater ties to what’s happening in the real world and better prepare pupils for employment.

Starting the ‘career conversation’ at school

As much as I am a supporter of businesses providing work experience placements, which are a very valuable opportunity for young people, they shouldn’t be the only interaction they have with the world of work during their schooldays.

By understanding the choice of career paths they can take, it will give them a better idea of the routes that will get them to the jobs they want. And in a lot of cases, vocational learning and apprenticeships will be the way to go.

In its report, the LGA is calling for centrally governed skills and employment system to be devolved to regional authorities to help them tackle local skills gaps on the ground rather than from Westminster.

I can see some merit in this as there are areas of the country that have particular skills needs and economic challenges that are best solved by local people.

However, there is the danger that this would create an even more unbalanced system and not give everyone the opportunity to access the skills training they should be entitled to, and that employers want their future workers to have.

When it comes to apprenticeships, I have always advocated a nationwide scheme where Job Seeker’s Allowance is given to employers rather than young people and it used to help fund their training. It’s simple and straightforward and would be effective.

I do hope that those in the positions of power in education, from the Government through the civil servants in the region, see this report from the LGA as the shock to the system they need to start again with a blank sheet of paper.

Otherwise, the pipework of the British economy will fall apart, and the future talent businesses so desperately need will escape from their grasp and drain away.

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