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Skills gaps: Shift towards employer collaboration

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The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has reported good “momentum” on its Industrial Partnership initiative, launched last autumn.

The initiative is designed to help competitors from the same sector collaborate on skills challenges solutions. Currently eight sector-wide partnerships have been established, including in the automotive, energy, digital technology and nuclear industries. More than 600 companies are involved so far, including 10 FTSE 100 organisations. 

Businesses already involved include Airbus, Jaguar Landrover, Channel 4, National Grid and GlaxoSmithKline.

Examples of partnership work include a Digital Industrial Partnership Degree Apprenticeships programme, which allows people to complete a full honours degree alongside their employment to ensure graduates are entering an industry with the required skill sets; and a Tunnelling and Underground Construction Industrial Partnership where employers are collaborating to ensure Crossrail engineers are developing the right skills for future projects such as HS2.

“This is about getting people to look beyond their own company,” said Jenny Herdman, assistant director at UKCES. “We think this is about employers starting to lead something, rather than saying 'kids come out of college, they don’t have skills we want and it’s all government’s fault'.”

She added: “A definite shift towards employer ownership is occurring. The reason is they are getting out what they want to at the other end.”

The strength of the partnerships lies in competitors being willing to collaborate, said Herdman. She said HRDs in sectors that haven’t yet established a partnership should be mindful of the fact that all key players will need to be involved for it to succeed.

“In the automotive sector for example, if it was only two of them it wouldn’t work,” she said. “You have got to have the majority of players. They needn’t be big companies, but the partnerships need to have enough momentum to make a difference. We are saying to people: how do you think the partnership should look?”

Herdman said that hopefully the number of employers willing to collaborate on skills issues would increase beyond the current level of 12%, as uncovered by UKCES’s most recent Employer Perspective Survey.

UKCES plans to share success stories as the Industrial Partnership initiative continues, added Herdman. She said she hopes to release a more formal progress evaluation this autumn.

Collectively the Industrial Partnerships project aims to engage 16,000 young people to experience working in these sectors, provide continuous professional development to 44,000 people in work, deliver 9,000 apprenticeships, and support 3,100 people to become more highly skilled or specialists in certain areas.