Local government is at the forefront of tackling the skills crisis hampering economic growth.
We are also in the midst of pioneering partnership approaches to intervene, with positive economic benefit, in skills and employment support reform agendas.
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers has developed a position statement and policy capacity to help lead this debate, capitalising on good practice across the country. We hope to launch some of this work at the Solace Summit this year.
Media narratives on skills and growth argue there is a mismatch between the skills supply in local labour markets and the needs of UK employers, leading to a ‘skills crisis’. There are major transformation issues facing the national skills system, and multiple economic analyses show uneven skills acquisition profiles and poor progression in both the 16-18 and 19+ cohorts.
The narrative and evidence on the UK’s declining international competitiveness in skills and labour market performance compounds these problems, as do budget pressures facing the skills and employment support systems, adding to the complexity.
Our work identifies a small number of big skills and employment challenges facing councils.
First, place leadership, cohesion and managing the impact of national ‘trickle-down’ economic strategy – reframed as ‘inclusive growth’ agendas – plays a critical role.
Second, devolution remains a crucial part of the local government narrative; the demand for devolution will continue to grow, because of the flexibility this affords growth planning in an increasingly constrained financial reality.
Third, practice shows councils are challenging their regeneration programmes to require a better balance between the physical transformations of many places matched with improved performance on skills.
Finally, local government has to better understand and navigate a complex skills and employment system that the government will continue to reform. This system is increasingly marketised, and determining local government’s place in the provider-employer-individual equation is probably the biggest challenge most local areas face.
Councils, as convenors of places, have a vital role in ensuring their local economies provide the appropriate tools to help people gain access to the necessary training and employment support. Critically, successful councils and city regions will not approach this agenda purely as a deficit model focusing solely on the skills crisis, but as an opportunity to convene new partnerships and pragmatic interventions in the labour market and skills/employment support systems, to drive sustainable growth and labour market progression for their populations.
Through a combination of practical case studies, ‘what works’ guides and improving management capacity to understand and navigate the skills and employment systems, Solace is ready to help and engage our membership on this important agenda.
Tom Stannard, director of economy and skills, Oldham MBC and Solace deputy spokesperson on economic growth and housing