The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a set of regional scorecards last month as part of the ‘Reviving Regions: Empowering Places to Revive and Thrive’ report in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group. The report included analysis of the causes, and more importantly, the solutions to the nation’s long-standing productivity gaps in the context of Brexit, COVID-19 and the Levelling Up agenda.
The East of England scorecard reiterates the strengths of the region, identifying it as the third most productive region (out of the 9 regions analysed) and the top region for R&D spend per head; regional assets including two international airports, the Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult, Adastral Park, Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult help to secure the regions position as an ‘international gateway’ for attracting investment and talent.
One of the key growth priorities identified by the CBI for the East of England is continuing to build on the vibrant local labour markets within the region, by addressing skills gaps, youth unemployment and futureproofing the economy. Despite a strong diversity of higher education and further education providers within the geography, the East of England is experiencing skills gaps in a number of key growth sectors, for example there is currently a 33% skills gap in the technology sector which is holding employers back. The most likely cause of this is post-16 students going to University and gaining a qualification that does not quality them for the technical jobs that require specific experience and skills, and other non-University students being unable to access high quality post-16 skills training and/or apprenticeships to enter into these fields.
The government’s shift toward encouraging post-16 students into apprenticeships and practical skills training over the traditional University route will play a key role in addressing the skills gaps in the region. Indeed, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill introduced on the 18th of May helps to solidify this commitment, with ambitious policies such as the creation of local skills improvement plans which will provide the building blocks we need to bolster the economy and enhance existing vibrant labour markets in the East of England.
The success of the Skills and Post-16 Bill will be at the core of tackling youth unemployment and addressing skills gaps in the critical sectors where classroom learning alone simply cannot prepare a student for the industry. In order to achieve this, decent investment for high-quality apprenticeships will be absolutely critical, and this investment must include on-the-job training and access to high-grade equipment and resources.
Other factors such as increasing the flexibility of apprenticeship schemes, as proposed in the government’s emerging proposals for Flexi-Job Apprenticeships, will help to futureproof the economy by giving individuals the option to re-train and re-/up-skill continuously throughout their careers using a modular approach to skill development. Other skills training courses such as T-Levels will help support young people into jobs where skills gaps exist – helping to tackle youth unemployment, whilst bolstering the labour market for these key growth sectors and filling critical skills gaps.
Regions across England are facing a set of complex and unique challenges; however, the CBI report links all the regions to the urgent need to tackle skills gaps. There is an intense pressure on Boris Johnson and his Cabinet to get this right, in order to futureproof the economy and secure the nation’s long-term economic prosperity and successful recovery from the pandemic.