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Collaboration is the key to bridging the skills gap

Lindsey Meadows
Head of Apprenticeships at The City of Liverpool College

The shortage and challenge of skills gaps continues to widen in key sectors and industry leads continue to report growing barriers in bridging the training and developing needs for a sustainable workforce.

Most prominent, and perhaps most surprising, is the gap in digital skills. Despite its position as the UK’s fastest growing industry, the country is facing a massive digital skills talent shortage across the board, with the latest report from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) estimating the cyber security recruitment pool falls short by 10,000 people a year, and 66% of UK digital leaders are unable to keep up with industry changes due to a lack of talent.

In response to gaps in various industries, earlier this year, Liverpool’s Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham launched a new Skills Action Plan to help employers fill record numbers of job vacancies across the Liverpool City Region following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The action plan for 2022/23 aims to reskill the city region’s workforce – young people in particular – and to help employers adapt to new post-Covid-19 ways of working and find the qualified and experienced staff they need.

As an education provider, we have worked strategically to tailor our curriculum based on our industry relationships and connections. We ensure our students are equipped with the specific skills and knowledge employers inform us they are looking for, resulting in increased employability for our students, while also providing employers with access to the talent they need to grow their businesses.

However, change of a greater scale will require more collaboration from businesses and educators. Research shows there is still a gap between education outcomes and what industries need. At the start of the year, experts renewed calls to reform the apprenticeship levy after a survey of employers revealed nearly half returned unspent funds to the treasury – suggesting businesses are not optimising the use of available apprenticeships.

It can sometimes seem that industry and education don’t always ‘speak the same language’, and there is a need to understand the challenges that each side faces. To continue to work towards mutual value and upskill our nation’s workforce, both parties need to listen and be open to working collaboratively.

Here are a few ways we can do that:

Take advantage of apprenticeships

The job market is a dynamic and rapidly changing environment, and now more than ever, there is a pressing need for workers to continuously learn new skills and gain new knowledge.

Both employers and employees will need to become more adaptable and flexible when it comes to planning for the future – this is where apprenticeships can really come into their own.

Apprenticeships are a key ingredient in any talent strategy across all industries, proving invaluable in future-proofing a business’s workforce by both upskilling and reskilling new and existing staff members. They allow businesses to rise to the challenge of staying current in knowledge and accessing the skills needed to drive performance, deliver results and be successful. What’s more, they allow employers to utilise their apprenticeship levy – an often overlooked business expenditure.

There is plenty of scope for employers to build loyal relationships with educational providers whereby they can help create an apprenticeship strategy that benefits them and their workforce specifically. Many institutions, including the College, will tailor the apprenticeship to the needs of their business partners and the skills those businesses have voiced they are lacking, therefore creating workers that will be ready to step into the workplace straight from education.

Apprenticeships allow employers to grow their own talent and the specific skills they need, whether it’s among those who are leaving education and just starting out in their career, or those who are already in work and looking to develop their existing skills or learn new ones. They unlock the potential of workers at all stages of their careers, and that’s a game changer for any business.

Collaborate with T Level providers

T Levels offer a brilliant opportunity to create a coherent dialogue between employers and education.

After rolling out the first wave in September 2020, T Levels have been hailed the biggest shake-up to education in a decade, creating a direct pathway for a smooth transition into industry.

Created in collaboration with industry experts, T Levels are high quality technical alternatives to A Levels, combining classroom theory with practical learning and a work placement to equip students with the real-world skills so desperately needed to help rebuild the economy.

They have been designed with industry leaders so that they are genuinely relevant to the needs of industry, and businesses know that T Level students have been trained in the specific skills needed to grow their workforces.

A placement of around 45 days also allows enough time for students to begin to make a positive contribution to the business as an ‘extra pair of hands’. By completing their theory alongside a work placement, it allows for a better prepared and motivated learner which ensures both sides get the most out of the experience.

Businesses that work with colleges on T Level courses benefit from having early access to new, upcoming talent. If a student showcases potential during their placement, it offers a natural progression from placement into a junior or apprenticeship role when they finish their course – kickstarting their career and helping the business build a pipeline of talent.

Introduce or increase work placement offerings

Work placements are an opportunity to introduce young people and those who lack experience within a sector to the reality of working life within their desired industry.

At The City of Liverpool College, our aim is to help students gain experience in the industry they’ve chosen for their career. Work placements play an important role in many of our courses and offer students a valuable insight into the world of work, as well as an opportunity to gain essential career skills.

Work placements are a great resource for businesses to raise their profile and represent a positive investment in the next generation of talent.

While work placements are a great opportunity for the learner, allowing them to gain confidence and on the job experience, they can also inspire new perspectives and ideas among those within the business. Young people bring fresh ideas and approaches which could open up new and emerging markets for the business, along with helping employees increase their understanding of modern learning processes and current educational qualifications.

Work placements, from a business perspective, are all about giving back to society and helping the future economy by doing your bit to help prepare young people for the world of work. Many young people, after completing their school or college courses, have an understanding of their desired industry, but they lack the hands-on experience which can often hinder their transition from education into work. Offering work placements helps shape the perceptions of the world of work for those who are fresh from the classroom.

So, what is the future likely to bring? In a desperate need to bridge the UK’s growing skills gaps and drive economic recovery, there is an increased appetite to collaborate. The responsibility for upskilling, reskilling and progressing our nation’s workforce is a duty that falls on us all – as educators and employers – and by working together, we can effectively blur the lines between academia and the working world and ensure our next generation learners have the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for a smooth transition post-study.