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Jon Kennard


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CIPD 2012: ‘Employers must take more responsibility for skills development’


If the UK is to remain competitive globally, employers must take more responsibility for addressing structural employment and systemic skills issues among the next generation of workers, according to government representatives.
Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP and current minister for employment and Michael Davis, chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, both took part in a panel discussion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual conference in Manchester on Wednesday entitled ‘Building the workforces of tomorrow’.
The discussion was chaired by Peter Cheese, the CIPD’s chief executive, who pointed out that everything from globalisation to children opting out of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects at school was making it increasingly difficult for many organisations to recruit the skills required to remain competitive.
UKCES’ Davis agreed, indicating that the challenge went much deeper than just the current financial crisis.
“This isn’t cyclical and it’s not about the current recession. It’s much more structural than that,” he said. “The number of vacancies is growing, but there’s a decline in the number of entry-level jobs traditionally taken up by young people and some just don’t exist anymore.”
To make matters worse for today’s youth, small-to-medium-sized companies tended to employ informal recruitment practices such as advertising jobs on notice boards, while work experience, although vital these days, was often difficult to get.
According to Commission research, only one in four employers offer jobs to people aged 16 to 21 who are leaving education for the first time.

Part of the answer

Meanwhile, although the number of apprenticeships being offered was growing, it was still a “relatively unused pathway” compared to other countries, and many young people saw it as a second rate proposition behind university.
As a result, “we need more employers to take ownership and recognise that the game has changed”, Davis warned.
This belief led to the creation of Employer Ownership Partnerships, in which the Commission worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in order to support employers in offering their own training, providing work experience and encouraging their supply chain to take on more young people too.
As for Swinson, she acknowledged that the government needed to “take a broader approach in future”, but definitely saw apprenticeships programmes as “part of the answer”.
While the government’s existing scheme had already been expanded, it was keen to guard against “complacency” by, in due course, exploring “issues around equality and what that looks like” as well as addressing the perceived low status of such schemes, she added.
Initiatives such as ‘Speakers for Schools’, which were part of the government’s ‘Inspiring the Future’ programme, were likewise intended to build links between employers and local communities.
As Davis concluded: “It’s now about employers taking more responsibility. If government steps back and employers step forward, there is inevitably a certain nervousness and it becomes a leap of faith. So in order to make it work, what we need to do is build stronger, more long-term relationships.”

This news item first appeared on our sister site HRzone

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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