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17th December 2021

Opinion: Government action on skills should never be enough

Stuart Thomson

The Chancellor’s recent Budget provided a very welcome boost for skills and training.  But whatever Government does, it doesn’t replace the personal responsibility we all have as well.

As the Chancellor stated in his speech, the announcements were designed to deliver an “economy of higher wages, higher skills, and rising productivity”.  All Chancellors and Budgets take skills seriously but for this Government they are not just part of its economic agenda but also fundamental to the success of levelling up.  Skills development is a valuable tool to ensure that economically the whole can grow.

The Chancellor said that the Budget “invests in the most wide-ranging skills agenda this country has seen in decades” including an increase in skills spending, by £3.8 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament (an increase of 42 per cent), expanded T Levels, building Institutes of Technology, rollout of the lifetime skills guarantee, an upgraded FE college estate, a quadrupling of the number of places on our skills bootcamps, and increased funding for apprenticeships.  Whilst this is all important, others have criticised the paucity of catch-up funding across education.

But regardless of the work done by Government, the measures introduced, and the level of priority given to skills development, there remains an onus on the individual to consider their own issues as well.

That is particularly the case for those in work and those entering the workplace.  It can sometimes feel that you are left to flounder or need to work out a path all by yourself.  But help is out there.  Many membership bodies offer advice on continuous professional development (CPD) and often run their own schemes as well.  This means that they have done much of the identification of relevant courses, reading, events etc.

For those in work or entering work, we must remember that skills development is not just about opportunities in the workplace and training courses.  Skills development come in a whole range of different guises; we don’t just have to think about taught courses even if they too play a valuable role.

The membership bodies will doubtless run courses, but they will have specialist groups, networking opportunities, and run webinars.  All can help in delivering improved skills.

Many employers too will run in-house training or support external training.  Again, there it is too easy to be put off by the perception that external training costs lots of money which some employers may be reticent to pay.  There are though free options around as well, especially in these days of ever greater online resources.  So be prepared to do your homework and look around for the opportunities.  Training doesn’t always have to incur costs.

Be prepared to take advice as well.  Ask colleagues what training they have done and found useful.  Also, ask friends and contacts in similar roles elsewhere. You don’t always have to be a pioneer. 

There is also a lot to be said for thinking not just about your immediate role but expanding your horizons and thinking about where you want to go as well.  Do you need to know more about leadership, finance, strategy, reputation etc.?

Training and skills can also be about being seconded as well.  Have a think about exploring those potential options with your employers as well.

The opportunities are out there but they need to be grasped.

The writer is the Head of Public Affairs at BDB Pitmans

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