The announcement of LSIP (Local Skills Improvement Programmes) is a vital part of the government’s strategy to reduce the skills gap. Philip Tutt-Leppard took part in a Workforce South LSIP Workshop, held at Blake Morgan in Chandler’s Ford on 23 March. He found that flexibility was the word of the day.
Zoe Huggins, chair of Workforce South introduced the workshop. She called it “an organic session to deliver information, listen and get feedback” from employers, education providers and local authorities on the development of a Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP).
Hampshire Chamber of Commerce is writing the plan for this region and is orchestrating a series of consultative events. The workshop was one way in which Business South is supporting the programme.
There is an urgency about the consultation. Leigh-Sara Timberlake, Group CEO Business South said, “This is a once in a generation opportunity for business leaders to help shape the skills training of tomorrow.”
Claire Froggatt, LSIP Programme Director at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce outlined the process and encouraged all businesses to complete a survey to articulate their training needs.
Flexibility dominated the following discussions as attendees shared their thoughts and concerns.
Flexibility of skills funding, college curriculum and apprentice levy were common to all. But there was also a recognition that solving the skills gap required more flexible attitudes among employers, employees and students.
Funding flexibility for LSIP
Claire Froggatt conceded “there are structural issues in the funding.” Business South is taking its campaign on a more flexible approach to the apprenticeship levy to the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Central South.
Katy Quinn from City of Portsmouth College mentioned that employers have widely different needs. For instance, some may need a three-week intensive course to train staff in specific areas. Colleges need to respond quickly. “We just don’t have that flexibility.” Others pointed to the inflexibility in the academic timetable; not a lot of use for the hospitality industry, for instance, which wants staff trained in the first quarter of the year, so they can hit the ground running in the Spring.
Employers have to take some responsibility. Many have cut and cut to create lean organisations. As a result, there is no one who can take trainees on and train them to grow into a role. They simply poach trained staff from elsewhere. During a breakout session, one participant from the transport sector said, “We’ve cut our own arms off and are now asking education providers to give us a new arm.”
The resulting skills shortages are often at mid to high levels because people are not coming through the system. There is a need for on-the-job training, particularly around soft skills and leadership.
But how do we encourage students to enter a career path in the first place? Many of the gaps lay in hospitality, where anti-social hours, demanding working environments and initially menial tasks do not attract the young. One potential solution was to see whether LSIP funding could provide seedcorn capital for businesses in specific sectors to come together and hire educational evangelists. These ‘reverse careers officers’ would take the sector into schools and colleges to get to students before they make decisions based on inadequate information and counter the cultural biases we all suffer from.
Culture and values
Cultural issues are prevalent – Gen Z don’t just ask how to apply for a job; they want to know the firm’s values, what the employer is going to do for them and they often are not prepared to work the hours or the conditions that their predecessors were.
To get the right staff, businesses must better understand the work ethic of young people. Katie from Portsmouth College commented that there is always a danger “we try to impose what we know and respect on the workforce of the future.”
At the other end of the age spectrum, the government is keen to get older people back into the workplace. However, delegates recognised they don’t want anti-social hours, bad working conditions and low wages any more than Gen Z.
Aaron Butson from Havant and South Downs College likened businesses to Premier League teams. You can either be a Manchester United, which enrolled youngsters into its academy and developed a world-beating team – but it took them a long time. Or you can be like Chelsea who go out and buy the top players, ready to perform at the highest level. It gets quick results, but you have to pay what they demand and be prepared to meet all their demands. And if they get a better offer, they may well be off to the next team.
There is impatience on both sides. Employers are impatient for results and skills. Young people are impatient to get the rewards. Colleges are impatient to provide the courses that match the needs of employers with the aspirations of learners. The job of the LSIP will be to convince all sides of the investment of time, energy, funding and effort they need to get what they want.