Skills for jobs


Can the ‘levelling up’ agenda finally address the skills shortage?

Lisa Vernon writes, on behalf of the Policy Consortium, about skills and the local context.


Levelling up’ is the new buzz word in UK politics, but could this agenda be the vehicle for us to finally address the issue of local skills shortages and regional inequalities across the UK?

Two of the government’s headline strategies – the Ten Point Plan and “Build Back Better: the Plan for Growth” – highlight the importance of skills development to help the UK emerge from the pandemic, greener, economically stronger and more inclusive. However, any strategy that fails to consider local skills needs may miss the mark.

Change and uncertainty in global employment

In 2018, reports from Pearson, NESTA and the World Economic Forum amongst many others highlighted some significant, impending changes in the global labour market:

  • a shift to automation: this will come at the expense of low-skilled, manual jobs but also create skilled roles in programming and engineering
  • increased globalization which will require advanced communication and management skills and – as we have seen – will require global collaboration in the face of challenges such as pandemics and global heating
  • an aging global population, and the legacy impact of the pandemic on global healthcare services will demand innovation, efficiency and investment in health and social care
  • the urgent need for a shift to a green economy will require new engineering, technology, energy, transport, and leadership skills.

The pandemic may well have accelerated the pace of the change. The sudden and dramatic shift to online and digital ways of working has forced technological innovation, altered retail and travel patterns and made many individuals and companies question the traditional concept of the ‘workplace’.

What does this mean for our learners?

Pearson’s ‘Future of Jobs’ report, 2018, highlighted that, of those currently employed, 10% are in occupations that will grow, 20% are in occupations that will shrink and 70% people are in jobs that have an uncertain future. The pandemic has compounded that uncertainty, and most profoundly for young people in – or soon to enter – further and higher education.

The government’s announcement of the Skills Accelerator initiative saw a wide range of collaborations being launched in July 2021. Many of these alliances are centered on newly created Local Skills Improvement Plans which are intended to explicitly link skills supply to employer demand, strengthening pathways available to learners for progression in specific fields. Skills Boot Camps have been created for those over 19  in work or unemployed with interest in retraining in areas of Construction, Digital, Engineering and manufacturing, Green skills, and Rail. Recently HGV driving has been added to this suite. These programmes enhance the potential for making career progression pathways accessible and inclusive to all- so that we can make the most of everyone’ skills and talents

The accelerated pace of change requires an accelerated response from our sector. We need to be closer than ever to employers and industry as the ‘fog’ clears and new jobs – and maybe new sectors – emerge. We need more robust mechanisms to link enterprise and education so that we can deliver skills for jobs.

Levelling up to local needs
This seismic shift in employment and skills has the potential to result in the more equal, ‘levelled up’ society. To do so, it has to move away from a London-centric approach of drawing skilled individuals into already thriving economic areas, and move towards local approaches to skills planning and delivery. Local, regional and national structures and frameworks to support this are emerging or already in place:

  1. The Gatsby Benchmarks , and the development of Opportunity Areas has been a catalyst for schools and further education providers to focus on how far they were linking with the world of business and enterprise. In some areas local businesses, through initiatives such as Cornerstone employers working with schools and colleges to improve careers education, have made significant contribution to the resources available to schools, colleges and their pupils and schools. Many examples of improved career aspiration have resulted for school pupils, college students and apprentices. These are strong foundations, but now it is necessary to build on them for the future.
  2. Skills Advisory Panels developed by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have brought business leaders together with Universities, FE colleges and apprenticeship scheme providers to inform local skill provision as to skills required to fill current and future vacancies.
  3. Partnerships between the Careers and Enterprise Company, LEPs and employers has created effective local Enterprise Advisor Networks, supporting the strategic development of careers education in colleges and schools. In turn, these networks are leading to innovation in curriculum planning, greater contact with employers and crucial information for parents particularly on how the world of work has changed. The creation of the Further Education Community of Practice within the CEC is recognition of the crucial role Further Education and Vocational Skills providers will play in delivering the skills the future workforce requires.

Changing mindsets

As a nation – and as FE providers – we seem to struggle with the notion of allowing market forces to dictate our offers. Individuals – investing their own time and, often, money into skills development – often choose courses that they are personally interested in, regardless of the employment opportunities that are realistically available to them.

‘Levelling up’ and overcoming regional inequalities will require:

  • robust and responsive labour market information that is accessible to those making choices about their skills development and future career path
  • incentivising training in shortage skills through employer partnerships for workplace opportunities and bursaries could encourage individuals into those careers
  • embedding careers orientated issues into school and college curricula and taking a counselling approach to career planning will go some way to address the often deep rooted preconceptions that keep people away from a shortage subjects.

Starting young

European wide research undertaken in 2019 into the reasons for early school leaving; highlighted the need for ‘..policies that target youth, social inclusion, education, and labour market areas. A comprehensive approach would ideally also focus on helping the individual pupil, supporting schools at the system level, and target national level drivers’ .

In is in such areas that FE colleges and course providers need investment and encouragement to develop their existing good practice in ‘co-training’ programmes where ‘shortage’ skillsets such as science, engineering or digital skills are embedded across all programmes. So art students gain transferable skills in computer aided design, music students in digital editing and learners enrolled on beauty courses develop skills in chemistry.

Schools need to communicate future jobs in exciting ways. More than ever young people need to hear that they have a bright future ahead of them and that change brings opportunities.

FE Colleges in the CEC Careers Hubs have been sharing their good practice on new Initiatives. For example, Carmel College’s team works with global engineering firm Jacobs on live projects. Students have grown in confidence, have been exposed to a wealth of new networks leading to work experience opportunities and career mentoring links.

In March 2021 the University of Derby published the findings of a four-year study of the impact of the Gatsby Benchmarks in the NE of England. At Sunderland College, the research revealed that enhanced links with a wide range of employers strengthen the college’s careers focused curriculum, including the importance of critical thinking, problem solving and adaptability.

The research also revealed the importance of developing early and primary education initiatives that build careers aspirations and confidence from an early age. The NE primary pilot involved piloting a highly successful primary framework for careers guidance.

There is a huge mismatch in the economy with large numbers of vacancies in vital industries and widespread oversupply of skills in others, if we are going to face the economic challenge of Brexit and post -Covid recovery then we must invest not only in skills, but in a coherent system of communication and promotion regarding the skills required for the future. If this is done locally then we may truly be able to start levelling up.



Careers and Enterprise Company Cornerstone Employers: [accessed 30.12.21]

Civil Service World Levelling Up: available at [accessed 30.12.21]

Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. Green revolution available at: [accessed 30/12/21]

FE Colleges : [accessed 30.12.21]

Gatsby Foundation     [accessed 30.12.21]

HM Government: Skills Accelerator  [accessed 30.12.21]

HM Treasury. Build Back Better:  available at [accessed 30/12/21]

LEP Network: Plan for Growth:  available at [Accessed 30/12/21]

North East Ambition [accessed 30.12.21]

Pearson: Future Skills: [accessed 30.12.21]

Restart. European Regeneration Areas Network available at [accessed 30/12/21]

Research 4 Committees [accessed 30.12.21]

Tees Valley Careers: Carmel College      [accessed 30.12.21]

ZME Science; Swedish Education: [accessed 30.12.21]

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