Getting young people ready for work is critical if the UK’s economy is to prosper. That was the message from a stellar panel of experts at a skills summit organised by BusinessCloud.
The Contact Company (TCC) in Birkenhead hosted Tuesday’s Liverpool Skills Summit, where two panels of business and education leaders said more must be done to close the UK’s widening skills gap and better prepare young people for work.
Sandra Kirkham (pictured below), managing director of Progress to Excellence Group, said: “We need to identify the skills gap, and plug it, from when our young children go into nurseries. There are already development gaps at that stage, and those gaps just get bigger and bigger.
“If we are going to have economic success in this region, and nationally, we need to innovate and in order to do that we have to up-skill.
“Let’s not forget the ground floor. If we don’t use education and training as a social mobility tool, we will not become prosperous in this region and we will not generate economic activity.”
Asif Hamid is the CEO of TCC and the chairman of Liverpool City Region LEP and told the 70-strong audience that the issue of the skills gap often took up 50 per cent of the board’s meetings.
“We have to get into schools at the age of 10, 11 and 12 when there is a passion to learn and to change,” he said. “Let’s be blunt about it, the education system in the UK is totally disjointed. Once you’ve gone to college and you are 16 or 17, that’s it, you’re too far gone.
“Schools have a curriculum given to them by Ofsted, and their one focus is Ofsted. The reality is that school children are not going to be work ready.”
Hamid said greater devolution was critical to allowing more decisions to be made locally, including the way the Apprenticeship Levy is spent.
“As business people, we’ve got to lobby the government to create that devolution,” he stressed.
Jo Whittingham is senior professional tutor in accounting and finance at Liverpool Hope University and was previously tasked with graduate recruitment at Grant Thornton.
“We teach our students how to know what they know, but not necessarily how to do,” she said. “Soft skills are not on the curriculum. If I don’t teach it, then where do [students] access those soft skills which we all agree is part of a massive skills gap?”
The tutor, who has 25 years’ experience in graduate recruitment, called on both universities and employers to ensure these skills remain a part of the development process for young people.
Panellist Dean Ward, co-founder and chief technical officer at fast-growing tech firm Evoke Creative, works with universities to take students into his business and have them work on live projects.
The company saw its turnover grow by 68 per cent last year to £16.6m and now employs 90 people.
“We have benefitted from our association with the universities greatly,” he said. “When those graduates graduate we have a chance to employ them in our business or take them on internships.”
Ward believes that students who join the business before their final year at university are better suited and more work-ready when they graduated.
“You can take someone on at A-Level who has the right attitude and talent and nurture them through the business,” said Ward.
Robyn Dooley was the youngest speaker at the age of 21 and said there was less of a skills gap and more of an “opportunity gap”.
At the age of 16 she dropped out of a college BTEC in fashion and realised there was a significant group of people in Liverpool who were being overlooked for jobs because they didn’t have the right qualifications.
She launched the Innovators’ Hub, which has been rebranded as OH, to offer a Catalyst programme to people aged over 18 who want to work in the digital creative sector.
The training programme works with employers and has helped many of the 88 young people who have undertaken the Catalyst programme back into employment or education.
“Rather than focusing on the skills gap, I think we ought to be more proactive than that and look at the opportunity gap,” she said.
“Skills are developed through opportunities, and if we were to honestly ask ourselves whether or not those opportunities exist for people to develop the skills which the industry are crying out for – they’re few and far between.”
The other speakers were Dr Edward Harcourt, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of External Engagement, Liverpool John Moores University; Amanda Willis, group head of HR, Peel Ports; Peel Ports apprentice Lewis Wooding-Smith; Rechelle Davis (pictured above), founder/creative & operational director, Energy Fairies; Sally Shah, Lead Commissioner: Place and Investment, Wirral Council; and Rob Tabb, head of service, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.