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Education leaving regional skills shortages unfulfilled

New Census data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has uncovered huge inter-regional discrepancies when it comes to education standards – but these may not necessarily translate into regional skills shortages.

Overall the data found 42% of workers or jobseekers in England and Wales have a higher-education qualification, but this jumps to 57% for those who live in London, and falls to 36% for those in the East Midlands.

Londoners are among the top 20% for workforce qualifications. Residents of the City of London rank the highest with more than 80% having a Level 4 qualification or higher.

However regional differences in educational attainment do not necessarily correlate with known regional skills shortages.

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London may have the highest education levels, but according to separate 2023 skills shortages analysis by Small Business Prices, the city also has the worst skills shortages – with vacancies at 30% above the national average. The East Midlands, by comparison, only has vacancies 2% above the national average.

Speaking to HR magazine Kerry White, associate director at search firm, Macmillan Davies, said: “High skills areas can also be high skills shortages areas, and we’re certainly finding that employers aren’t as fixated by formal qualifications as they used to be.

"They are hiring for what they believe people are capable of, and what their experiences are. Employers often want people’s education removed from CVs altogether.”

According to the ONS only two of the 10 highest-scoring areas for education were outside London, Cambridge and St Albans, and it is the east of England and Wales where residents have some of the lowest levels of educational achievement.

Of the 10 lowest-scoring areas in England and Wales, seven were in these two regions, including Great Yarmouth and Castle Point, near Southend-on-Sea.

A spokesperson from ONS said: “While London stands out in having a more highly qualified resident workforce than other areas of England and Wales, the biggest differences are visible when comparing smaller areas, with clearer inequalities in qualification levels found within regions than between them.”

Boston, in Lincolnshire, is the region with the lowest percentage of the workforce with higher education qualifications, at just 23%, and more of this area’s population had no qualifications at all than had Level 1, 2 or 3 qualifications. Overall, less than half of this region’s labour force have post-16 qualifications.

The data shows cities tend to attract those with the greatest level of academic attainment, although Leicester and Hull buck this trend, with nearly one in five workers in Leicester having no formal qualifications, and only 35% of the population having higher education qualifications.

In Hull 7% have an apprenticeship as their highest qualification.

According to the ONS data 14% of Wolverhampton’s population have no formal qualifications, while this was 12% in Birmingham. Cities in the West Midlands were revealed to have lower-qualified residents compared with the surrounding areas than in most other regions.

In Cardiff, more than half of residents (52%) have higher education qualifications.