Building the STEM careers of the future

23 June 2014

Column originally published in The Municipal Journal on 10 June 2014.

In early 2014, NIACE published groundbreaking research illustrating how the learning and skills sector is going to have to change the way it works – particularly with how it engages with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and employers.

As part of a research initiative funded by the Gatsby Foundation, we worked with a number of STEM employers in the Dorset LEP area.

Every one of them was positive about the potential of the Government’s new Traineeship Programme.

They saw how a traineeship, a programme designed to prepare young people for employment or an apprenticeship, could provide a much needed pathway to future STEM job roles.

However, there was a problem. Prior to receiving the NIACE pre-interview briefing, not one of the 14 employers who participated had actually heard of traineeships.

This lack of awareness risked limiting the potential of traineeships, as employers providing work placements forms a key part of the national programme. Our work also demonstrated that the role of LEPs is not only crucial for the successful delivery of the traineeship programme, but they are vital to evaluating and subsequently meeting the growing and changing needs of local labour markets – STEM or otherwise.

Skills shortages are probably the biggest threat to sustainable and equitable economic growth for communities across the county.

Employers who invest in training for their staff at all levels recognise that by developing their workforce they are improving their productivity and business success. But the recent UKCES Employer Skills Survey showed that only two-thirds of employers were regularly training their staff. What is more concerning is that individual workers have fewer days training and the total investment in training by employers has fallen since 2009.

And most concerning of all is that a third of all workers – which could be as many as 10 million people – get no training at work whatsoever.

NIACE believes that if we are going to have the right number of people with the right level of skills to make our economy healthy and successful, and our society vibrant and prosperous, then radical action is needed.

To meet the needs of business and wider society, employers, learners, Government, and colleges and training providers must work together through LEPs to provide the opportunities that local labour markets require, and that local people both need and want.

Over the next few weeks, in the run up to 2014 Adult Learners’ Week, we will be showcasing this research, as well as sharing stories about our national award winners, this year selected from almost 1,500 national nominees. Stories of people, projects and employers which illustrate the overwhelmingly positive impact that learning and skills development has on individuals, families, communities and workplaces.

They might be happening in localities all over country but as the UKCES survey shows, these stories are not the norm, and need to be. Our purpose is to make sure these opportunities are available for all – no matter where you live or work, your age, your health or how well you did at school.

At our national Skills for Prosperity conference on 19th June, we will launch our pre-2015 manifesto, detailing our priorities for the next Government. We know that skills and lifelong learning has a crucial role to play in ensuring that we build a sustainable recovery for all.

We will be challenging the Minister Matthew Hancock, Shadow Minister Liam Byrne and Baroness Brinton from the Lib Dems on how they will deliver and achieve a vision for driving economic growth and social justice across the country over the course of the next Parliament.

Our work with the Dorset LEP on STEM career pathways was only the beginning of this important journey, and we are now seeking further Local Enterprise Partnership areas to work with us on the second fully funded phase of this important work.

If your LEP would be interested in taking part please contact me to find out more.