Milton Keynes Council Skills Forum

Venue: Milton Keynes
Date: 30 Nov 2014 - 31 Dec 2014

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Could some joined up thinking bridge the skills gap in Milton Keynes?

Get a group of business people together and ask them what the challenges facing business today are and the responses will include: red tape; transport and infrastructure, and of course ‘the economy, stupid’.

But another equally important issue crops up again and again - the skills shortage or skills gap. Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership has often discussed the challenge it presents to economic growth and, how can we bridge that growing gap?

Some organisations can commit resources to equip their people with the required skills and encourage their continuing personal development.  Others might simply recruit those with skills ‘off the shelf’ - if they can find them?  Some will say upskilling sounds costly and complain that they are just too busy simply surviving and anyway ‘upskilling our staff risks losing them to better paid jobs’.  Too few businesses are like the first group mentioned, and perhaps too many behave like the rest?

But what are the skills UK business is crying out for?  Broadly they are the ones we need to drive our businesses forward today and tomorrow.  But each organisation has a different skill need from the one next door.

The IT industry needs trained technicians and it is claimed, could resort to recruiting computer hackers to tackle cyber security issues.  The logistics industry predicts a crisis as older HGV drivers retire and because young people don’t want to drive trucks for a living there is a potential shortfall of 149,000 drivers towards 2020.  Skill shortages in manufacturing, plumbing and health and social care contributed towards an estimated total of 146,000 unfilled job vacancies nationally last year, while construction is being hit by a lack of key tradespeople - not ideal if you are re-building an economy?

Even a ‘young industry’ like renewable energy is not immune and is coping with a shortage of engineers.  And it is not just skills like gas fitting, computer programming and plumbing we are short of;  employers also bemoan a lack of basic ‘soft’ skills among new applicants, in numeracy, literacy and communication. 

The chairman of the John Lewis Partnership recently quoted an OECD report that showed 22% of UK jobs now only required the education level of an 11-year old. In Germany it is 5%.  The report ‘The Skills Needed in the 21st Century highlighted a growing ‘qualification mismatch’ in the UK.

There is no shortage of statistics, or trenchant views on the subject.  What is in short supply is the joined-up thinking that correctly identifies the skills required, is integrated with and supports the education and training infrastructure to provide them, and helps delivers the skilled people to the workplace that needs them.

That is why MK Business Leaders supports the recently launched Milton Keynes Council Skills Forum which brings together the key players and stakeholders from business, education, the Council and regional and national bodies.  We share its core mission, which is to ensure that skilled people of all ages can fill the available opportunities and vacancies.

Milton Keynes is fortunate that its mix of private and public sector organisations, of manufacturing, distribution, professional and service businesses, has seen it weather many of the economic headwinds.  And it has been boosted by having school and college heads and principals who recognise that fully equipping young and older people for the world of work is paramount.  The Skills Forum deserves the full backing of our business community, because working together and with some joined up thinking, we can help close the skills gap.

By Dr Philip Smith, chair of Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership