A report published last week by the former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Hestletine detailed a range of 89 recommendations the government should adopt to improve the British economy. The report entitled, ‘No stone unturned in pursuit of growth’ commissioned by the Chancellor George Osbourne proposes a range of controversial proposals which will make many Conservative ministers feel uncomfortable, including forcing the government to make a decision on the third runway at Heathrow, a decision Mr Cameron has been delaying since he took office.
Heseltine’s report does contain a couple of sensible and easy to adopt policies that have been universally welcomed by business leaders. One of the recommendations is for employers to become much more involved with school, college and training providers in giving young people careers advice. Moreover, Hestletine argues that employers should become more involved in developing school curriculums. Schools should be required to recruit at least two representatives from “influential” local employers on to their board of governors and work more closely with local chambers of commerce on developing pupils’ experiences of the world of work.
The report says: “Where [business involvement with schools] is sustained and systematic, it delivers tangible improvements in outcomes for schools. Evidence shows that young people who have experienced employer engagement activities, such as work experience, are five times less likely to end up outside education, training or employment.”
Hestletine also believes the issue of skills and training for the under 21s should be devolved away from central government and managed at a local level. He cites the example of Switzerland, where the country is divided into 26 different local areas which organise their own skills and training programmes to meet the local needs of businesses. Two thirds of Swiss young people decide to undertake one of these programmes.
In Britain this would work by linking schools into existing regional Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). These already exist and work with industry and local business leaders to address skills shortages in the region and attract investment and businesses to the area. If Hestletine’s proposal was to be adopted, the remit of the LEPs would expand to include local education and training provision and ensure it matched the needs of local employers.
For example, in the case of Greater Cambridgeshire and Peterborough LEP it would be working closely with schools and colleges to promote IT careers and ensure the relevant training was available to young people. This is because the Cambridgeshire local economy is based on high tech and biotechnology industries. The IT sector is particularly strong with employers in the area including Microsoft, Citrix, Sony, Nokia and Toshiba.
The closer alignment of education and business has generally been well received by politicians. Sir Merrick, Chairman of the Local Government Association believes that local government can have a bigger role to play in skills training.
He stated, “We endorse Lord Heseltine’s ideas of bringing money from different Whitehall departments into a single pot to fund skills and support SMEs. Such a strategy would ensure funds were awarded according to local needs rather than an inflexible set of national criteria. This will help avoid creating perverse outcomes such as the shocking skills mismatch which saw 40,000 people trained for 72,000 new jobs in building and engineering trades.”
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