London Councils report on skills needs

A business audience in Wembley heard that work is needed on understanding of apprenticeships, and on getting schools engaged with them, among other thoughts on filling in West London’s skills gaps.

At the London Business 1000 Breakfast Meeting at Brent Civic Centre, attendees came to discuss the findings of a survey of business leaders commissioned by London Councils.

James Rentoul, associate Director, ComRes, presented the report. The research looked at the skills challenges, where the key issue was shortages of skilled manual, technical, professional & managerial people. More than half the businesses surveyed had encountered difficulty recruiting, both because of this, and because of a general lack of applicants.

Apprentices were a positive story. The proportion of businesses across London employing them has doubled to 17% in a year, with West London at 22%, the highest of any sub-region. Businesses still want more support, particularly financial, for employing apprentices, and to have them better prepared for the world of work.

They want more accessible and better information on the apprenticeship system too, while 42% do not expect to use their apprenticeship levy. Part of the reason for that is a lack of awareness of how to use it, and part is down to not understanding what apprentices can do.

Kate Phillips, Head of resourcing and talent acquisition at Chiswick-based BSI, had some suggestions: “We need to dispel a few myths, and tell some good news stories. People don’t know what apprenticeships can be used for.”

James said: “There are challenges and opportunities. We need to embed core skills in education, and engage young people early.”

Kate agreed – saying: “We need to get schools engaged with helping their students understand the opportunities”.

Andrew Dakers, CEO of West London Business, speaking from the audience echoed that, saying that it is critical to get work experience at schools scaled up again.

Kate described the BSI Approach. She said: “We use our apprenticeship levy both to bring people in to the organisation, and to develop skills for those already on board. For example we are looking at developing a sales degree or apprenticeship. It’s about using apprenticeships as a staff retention strategy, a lot of millenials look to join companies with active staff development programmes.”

Another contributor said that businesses don’t all understand that they could take someone on, then put them on an apprenticeship once they’ve decided they want to develop them – thereby reducing the risk.

However, it takes someone inside a business to really care. If a business doesn’t use its levy it may not see it as the most critical loss. Without someone with passion, it will often not happen.

And while there was some support in the room for reform of the apprenticeship system, many felt that work needs to focus on engaging businesses better, on creating that passion, and perhaps engaging support networks. For example, can larger businesses with the infrastructure to deal with apprenticeships help smaller ones?

David Francis, Director of the West London Alliance, said: “The report highlights there is a market failure, and the need for public and private sector to work together, particularly with the devolution of skills to a local level. It’s important to get large companies to work with their supply chains, with smaller companies.”

He said to broad agreement that a mechanism to stop unused levy heading back to the Treasury needs to be found. “There is something to be done about promoting the system. It came out clearly in the survey. But even then it won’t all get used, and at the moment that goes back to Government. If it could be retained in the sub-region we could do something with it.”

Peter Bishop, Deputy CEO London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that now was a great moment to get a message out:”I am hopeful, business has never had such a high profile. Business is cool – it gives a good base to build on.”

Dianna Neal, Strategic Lead: Enterprise, Economy and Skills, London Councils, then outlined the London Councils campaign around the upcoming Government spending review.

She said: “We want London to be a great place to do business but we need local government to have the resources it needs to deliver key services, build affordable homes, and run successful travel networks.

“Over the last ten years core government grant to London boroughs has fallen 60%, and their spending power has reduced by 30%, while public spending nationally has gone up. This reflects choices made at a national level.

“With a population growing twice as fast as the rest of country, with London responsible for 25% of UK economic gross value added, and with the city contributing more than anywhere else in tax, the UK needs London working.

“We need commitment to major infrastructure projects – Crossrail 2, HS2, and the West London Orbital. We need to explore new ways of funding them, through land value capture mechanisms.

“We want investment in education and skills. The FE sector needs investment. We need more affordable homes, and while we welcome action on borrowing, we need more so that councils can invest more.”

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