Roundup of workshop on skills for the emerging economy

Skills graphic from chapter 5 of Fit for the Future book‘Skills for the emerging economy’ was a lively and well-attended workshop held at the Observatory’s Annual Conference on 20th October 2009.

Steve Sawbridge, from the Association of Colleges, chaired the workshop, which featured presentations from Mike Beasley, Pat Jackson and Andy Phillips.

Skills – how well placed are we for tomorrow?

Mike Beasley, Chair of the Regional Skills Partnership, opened the workshop.

Mike  stressed the importance of understanding the new shape the economy is taking as a consequence of the economic downturn and the related demand for labour and skills. While some of the skills needs and issues will remain the same, many new ones are expected to emerge.

What evidence do we have to inform future skills policy?

Pat Jackson, Director of the Regional Skills Partnership and Andy Phillips, Head of Skills Research at the Observatory gave this joint presentation:

Pat and Andy reviewed the range of research evidence available relating to historical trends along with present and future needs.

Pat highlighted the considerable level of funding that goes into skills from both the public and private sector, and the need for comprehensive and informative research in order to make the best possible use of the funds available. This will become even more important as the level of funding might be reduced in the future.

Ensuing discussions were interactive and engaging. Key skills issues for the West Midlands raised by delegates include:

  • How do we tie education to innovation and/or entrepreneurship in new industries?
  • How can universities be more responsive to local needs and give leadership?
  • What measures are being taken within the region to address the loss of skills that will result from an ageing workforce?
  • Do skills drive the economy or does the economy drive skill levels?
  • Given the expected cuts in public sector expenditure in the coming years, the question that arises is who will fund skills in the future?
  • Where is the potential, what are the new industries and sectors that will drive growth?

Research priorities for the future

Delegates also highlighted a range of key research priorities for the future. In particular, there’s a need to improve the measurement of skills so that they are distinct from the measurement of qualifications.

More specifically:

  • A better understanding of the demand for and supply of generic transferable skills such as leadership and management, communication, customer service, team working, problem solving, adaptability, flexibility, and so on, that young graduates are able to offer.
  • A better understanding of the demand for and supply of basic employability skills such as literacy, numeracy and basic IT skills.
  • The extent of likely replacement demand, as the workforce is ageing in many key sectors, and whether the skill sets and skills levels of new recruits will differ from those they replace.
  • The bottom line business benefits of investment in skills – for both employers and individuals.
  • The need to raise aspiration levels in young and unemployed people and  to increase their mobility and flexibility in searching for and choosing a job.

The difficulties in communication and in connecting the skills offered by providers (colleges, universities and other training institutions) with the demand from the employers was also on the agenda.

Next steps – how to best address gaps in knowledge

This last section considered the capabilities we need for the knowledge economy and how institutions could keep pace with new legislative and technological changes that are constantly emerging.

Overall, the need for cooperation and better communication at all levels and among all actors on the labour market (employers, individuals, skill providers and other stakeholders) was emphasised.

More research into future skills needs in existing and emerging sectors and, more specifically, drilling down to employers’ specific requirements will be vital, especially given the rapid pace of change within the economy.

Related links

Notes

The ‘Skills for the emerging economy’ workshop was based on the content of the chapter 5 of the book West Midlands: Fit for the Future? (PDF, 5.7mb) published by the West Midland Regional Observatory, July 2009.

Chapter 5 was written by Mike Beasley, Chair of the West Midlands Regional Skills Partnership.

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