The UK faces a number of challenges, especially with Brexit.
One of the key challenges is indeed the skills gap and its effect on our productivity, which is why we are working on the Industrial Strategy, which recognises the need for a robust plan.
I have spoken a number of times in Parliament about the skills gap in Wiltshire and the concerns local job creators have that they will be forced to leave the area if the skills shortage in their sector continues.
The first Wiltshire Festival of Engineering helped to make steps towards tackling this and I am currently planning the second one to build on this.
Careers education, encouraging and helping foster a stronger link between business and schools is important, but we also need to look at supporting specific groups more, such as those with low educational attainment and those who have faced disadvantages, not just financial but also emotional, as well as those looking to re-enter the workforce, be it after children, after being a carer or at a mature age. These are just some of the groups that we need to focus on.
Plans to introduce vocational T-levels, on a par with A-levels, reforming our career service and developing a stronger link between careers advice and the labour market, as well as expanding apprenticeship schemes will all only work if we do not leave certain sectors of society behind. That is why I am working with an organisation called Centrepoint on this topic.
Whilst we are not training and equipping enough people with the skills in the sectors that the economy needs, we are also leaving behind cohorts of people with no or little skills at all.
This week I co-chaired a session with them for a report on apprenticeships and social mobility. The Government target is for three million apprenticeships by 2020. However, it is important that those who are disadvantaged in some way are not overlooked and left behind.
I made the point that the term ‘disadvantaged’ must include not just financial but also emotional, health and life-changing obstacles that people encounter such as mental health problems, bereavement and criminal convictions etc.
We need to tackle the productivity crisis and skills gap but we must do this with a plan designed for all the labour market, if it is to prove effective, and we are to ensure that the economy is strong and robust throughout Brexit negotiations and after.
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