Skills scrutinised at stakeholder events

The events were hosted in conjunction with A4e (Action for Employment), a national provider of work and community support initiatives.
In particular, the stakeholder discussions focused on the question of vocational training and how the skills that young people develop can be better matched and aligned with the real needs of employers.

The principal objective of the events was to hear from the stakeholders themselves and to gather their views on how the Lancashire’s public and private sector organisations could best work together to make vocational training more accessible, more relevant and more employer-driven.

Ilyas Munshi, CEO of Enterprise4All, said: “We set out to understand how we can best meet the demands for economic growth and innovation through better skills and employment opportunities. In assessing that we were also asking how we can help to ensure that young people see vocational training as a realistic, viable and attractive option for improving their life chances.

“Important to both those questions is the relevance of the training itself, which is why it has been so important to solicit the view of employers. We needed to understand how well their skills needs are currently being met, where potential gaps exist and how the various education providers could adapt their offerings to make them better suited to the demands of the business community.

“The results have been very revealing. Many employers see vocational qualifications as every bit as valuable and credible as the sorts of qualifications that young people are achieving through further education. For many school leavers, on the job training makes complete sense, particularly when one considers the spiralling costs of a university education; true vocational training means that young employees will be earning as they are learning, and that they can be more confident that the skills they are developing will stand them in good stead for the future.”

Business delegates attending the events reported that a crucial requirement was for more effective engagement between National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the region’s many SME employers and professional bodies, and for more active promotion of the benefits of apprenticeships. They recommended that a single platform be created to provide information about recruitment opportunities and funding, and that there should be more provision for tailor-made, flexible training programmes that meet the needs of employers rather than constraints dictated within existing frameworks.

Employers recorded their concern about the calibre of candidates currently coming through to them, noting that many candidates are seen to lack a basic work ethic as well as numeracy and literacy skills. More needs to be done to engage earlier in the school life rather than simply engaging with two weeks work experience.

The stakeholders also reached a clear agreement that all parties should encourage and enable young people to pursue real career opportunities rather than registering for frameworks that do not necessarily lead to employment. They agreed that marketing to parents would also be critical in order to help them weigh up the cost of further education against vocational provision.

“It has been a very worthwhile exercise,” concluded Ilyas Munshi. “It has produced valuable feedback about what employers are really looking for and what they need to create the kind of economic growth that will benefit Lancashire as whole. It has also begun to address some of the reasons why young people haven’t always been confident about the value of previous forms of training provision. What everyone is now looking for is a way of delivering skills that are of real value to employers and that represent a genuinely credible pathway to employment.”