Skills push can transform Liverpool into a ‘city region of learning’
Euan West, office senior partner at KPMG in Liverpool, explains how the skills agenda is a key driver of productivity and business prosperity in our city region
Skills matter. They are at the top of the priorities list of employers and are critical to driving productivity, business and economic prosperity.
If we are to create a fairer society and help Liverpool, and the North more broadly, share in national prosperity, we need to transform the way we look at education but more importantly who we consider to be students and how we all learn.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Brexit together are set to shake up Britain’s position in the market for global talent. For this city, it means we also need to create a workforce that is fit for the future.
We might be home to some of the best universities and colleges but no qualification on the planet can equip someone with everything they need to know for what is likely to be a 60-year working life beginning in 2019. The Liverpool city region has already recognised this and is taking a lead through its Skills Strategy for 2018-2023.
There is a wide acknowledgement of the issues; answers are harder: We believe there are three key actions that must be taken as part of the UK industrial strategy.
Firstly, we need to develop a national skills framework. This means rethinking the way we learn. The workforce needs to have a strong foundation of basic skills on which to build, adapting to changing skills demands and managing transitions in the future. That includes literacy, numeracy and digital proficiency. This is not necessarily about qualifications but a way of building, recognising and accrediting people’s skills.
And as employers we need to be clear about the skills needed in order to be productive and successful. There is a responsibility to spell out a job-ready skills framework that focuses less on qualifications and accreditation and more on real, practical workplace competencies.
Across Liverpool we can build on the Skills Strategy to collectively agree this in the context of local needs across key sectors, including, for example, digital and creative, health and life sciences and advanced manufacturing. It will, and must, change and evolve but let’s build on what we have.
Delivering the framework
Second, there needs to be more investment in digitally-enabled learning if we are to make significant progress to improve skills. The potential for digital learning is enormous and we have only just scratched the surface. Critically, it can provide a cost-efficient platform for more inclusive learning at scale.
We need to help people in communities across the city region, wherever they are, not just in our metropolitan centres, but rural areas too. This can underpin the focus on inclusive growth across communities, age ranges and backgrounds.
To realise this vision, two basic foundations must be secured. The government must ensure that everyone has access to good basic digital infrastructure. In turn, this has to be accompanied by basic digital literacy skills training.
A culture of lifelong learning
Finally, an essential part of this strategy is in setting the conditions and culture for lifelong learning. As the skills required to keep doing a job effectively are evolving all the time, we can’t afford to leave people behind with obsolete skills and no way back into the jobs market.
However, to really shift the dial on productivity, we all need to become students, constantly acquiring skills and qualifications across different modes of delivery.
One – perhaps somewhat radical – suggestion is to use the National Minimum Wage legislation to achieve this. What if we introduced ‘top-up’ payments on high skilled employees – this may incentivise people to continuously develop their skills and keep learning, rather than for simply getting older?
Inward investment and productivity is driven by the ability of companies to recruit the people with the skills they need. Liverpool’s success will depend on how we approach the skills debate and make tangible interventions and cultural shifts to make us a ‘city region of learning’ across all of our working lives.
The ultimate skills conversation is about not just about greater participation in the jobs market but how a skilled workforce leads to strong productivity and growth, which is so important to Liverpool’s economic prosperity.
We must remain competitive on a national level, and in the context of an interconnected and rapidly evolving global economy.
If we take the right action now, we can set ourselves and future generations on a different course and towards a lifetime of stimulating and fulfilling work. Quite simply, we need to learn to keep on learning.