Mismatch between skills and opportunities


The first government-commissioned National Strategic Skills Audit for England, released on March 17th, revealed a serious mismatch between skills and opportunities. The National Strategic Skills Audit, which will be produced now annually, aims to provide a comprehensive and authoritative evidence base for government, providers, RDAs employers and individuals, informing their decisions about investment in education and training. It  is the next stage in the development of a labour market needs-led approach to skills development: one that not only ensures that current demand is effectively met by the skills system, but also that future demands are identified, anticipated, shaped and stimulated. To aid recovery and drive growth, the Government has set out the need for a more active industrial policy. This involves looking strategically at the economy, ensuring opportunities and strengths are maximised, and creating the conditions needed for future economic success. In terms of the things that people in England make and do – the ‘sectoral’ structure of employment – the largest sectors are public administration, education and health, together accounting for more than one job in four. Distribution, hotels and restaurants account for around another one job in five, and banking, finance and insurance a little less. Manufacturing accounts for one job in eight and construction one job in 12.

It showed that England’s fastest-growing jobs between the second quarter of 2001 and the same period in 2009 include conservation officers (up 124%), town planners (94%), psychologists (67%), and hairdressers and the like (63%). Further investigation shows a big increase in semi-professional jobs (paramedics, legal associates, teachers’ assistants) rather than professional ones. Of the top 20 fast-growing jobs, 11 mainly attract people who hold a level-four qualification—roughly, a university degree or equivalent. Only one of the top 20 waning ones did (though, perhaps worryingly, it is “quality-assurance technicians” who are going). Skills gaps—employed workers who lack the wherewithal to do their jobs properly—are prevalent. Over one in five employers struggle with staff who have trouble communicating, working in teams and dealing with customers. Perhaps 7% of those in work—or 1.7m people—are not equipped for the jobs they do, with a corresponding loss of output and productivity. Britain is producing more qualified people, at a rate that will make it around tenth best in the OECD by 2020. But demand for them is not growing as quickly: Britain’s recent record on skilled-job creation is one of the OECD’s worst.  In terms of the skills of the workforce in England, just over one in 10 have no qualifications, while nearly a third are qualified to level 4 and above. In order to reach our ambitious skills objectives for 2020 (see UKCES, 2009), the audit found a considerable growth in achievements at all levels is required. In particular, on the basis of recent trends and future projections, further improvements are most needed at level 3, in numeracy, and in acquiring at least some level of qualification.

There have been three other announcements related to a more interventionist government approach to skills policy recently.  First one more National Skills Academy, in this case for Power, was now up and running and that similar Academies were to be created in five other sectors. Second that further funding was being made available for the car and civil nuclear energy industries respectively and third that work was under way to create a new Technician Council to act as a registration and support agency for the new technician class.

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