Skills partnerships have never been more important

24 March 2014

Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 10 March 2014.

Three significant learning and skills developments will impact significantly on local economic regeneration.

Latest participation data from the Skills Funding Agency shows the number of adults taking part in publicly funded learning in England has dropped by almost 200,000 compared with last year.

There were 63,000 fewer adults on maths courses – a 14% drop – and 51,000 fewer on English courses, an 11% fall.

Although these are provisional figures, they should cause some head scratching in local enterprise partnerships.

Second, employer skills survey data from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills revealed that almost a quarter of job vacancies – 22% of the 655,000 total – are unfilled because of skills shortages.

Basic skills in literacy and numeracy and those for skilled trades, management and professional roles were among the most lacking.

Third, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ annual Skills Funding Statement delivered the blunt headline that we face 20% cut in the adult skills budget over the next two years. Nearly £500m is disappearing from the budgets of further education colleges.

These support significant local interventions to address skills shortages, which the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has identified.

Like recent local government settlements this hardly paints a rosy picture.

But like the best of local government it provides a big opportunity to re-energise local partnership working.

Councils’ biggest challenge is making the most of their skills partnerships.

This means local government working collaboratively with colleges, employers and LEPs to provide creative local solutions to match supply and demand in the skills system with the demands and motivations of learners and employers.

The LEPs and city deal areas with which we work are taking action to address these dilemmas, including:

  1. LEP-level labour market assessments, diagnosing the skills needs of all adults
  2. Analysis on the impact of the SFS on course viability in local FE providers – across LEPs and local public service boards
  3. Developing employer-led skills strategies that seek to influence learner demand and motivation across LEP areas
  4. Impact assessments of the financial outlook for skills on those citizens furthest from the labour market
  5. Understanding the opportunity and risks around the provision of advanced learning loans at level 3 and 4

Learning and skills must not end when people reach the age of 24.

This view is widely shared by the employers we work with.

The new local partnership landscape of LEPs and councils now needs to rise to the challenge of addressing this to benefit local labour markets.

The NIACE is here to help local government with that task.