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In the summer of 1984, the industrial dispute between striking miners and the national coal and steel firms came to a head in violent clashes at Orgreave, outside Sheffield. For many, the defeat of the unions signified the inevitability of de-industrialisation, and Britain’s service industries - from financial professionals to burger-flippers - have led employment growth since.

In the summer of 1984, the industrial dispute between striking miners and the national coal and steel firms came to a head in violent clashes at Orgreave, outside Sheffield. For many, the defeat of the unions signified the inevitability of de-industrialisation, and Britain’s service industries - from financial professionals to burger-flippers - have led employment growth since.

Image source: Wikimedia
Image source: Wikimedia

 

Despite frequent reforms from government, the way we consider skills policy for the modern economy has changed little in a generation. While politicians and media reports diligently track monthly unemployment figures, 43% of the workforce, 13 million people in the UK, report that they aren’t using their potential and skills at work. As the economic landscape evolves, the nature of work is changing too.

Today we launched Human Capitals - a City Growth Commission report which argues that we won’t fully realise economic growth potential without addressing the huge mismatches in local labour markets between supply and demand for skills. Because metro labour market challenges are so different, our centrally controlled system struggles to be sensitive to local conditions. We argue that policy needs to focus on strengthening in-work progression, encouraging employers to use the skills of the existing workforce to add value. Business growth and workforce development are one and the same.

Advanced Manufacturing Park in Orgreave
Advanced Manufacturing Park in Orgreave

 

30 years later, Orgreave has been transformed. Now the growing Advanced Manufacturing Park buzzes with activity, and a unique partnership between Boeing, Rolls Royce and the University of Sheffield provides world-leading research and training. Several sons and daughters of miners are pursuing careers in engineering at the AMRC and in a range of newer sectors. But the challenges of finding employment which fulfils individual potential go far beyond the skills agenda: our research has shown that housing, childcare and transport can limit the successful matching of workers to work.

At the launch of Human Capitals in Orgreave one panellist noted there is now “raging agreement” over devolution of powers from central government. But attendees weren’t under any illusions about the need to go beyond consensus, and develop a roadmap for transition to devolved, localised metro leadership on skills. Despite the rhetoric, government departments may get nervous about giving up control. As John Mothersole, Sheffield’s Chief Executive concluded, “the case is compelling. The key point here is the principle of local design and leadership. We need to win the principle before we ask for control over money”.

Human Capitals recommends that government funding for adult skills must be under the control of accountable authorities at the metro scale. This would allow place-based approaches which work across traditional policy areas. We also want to see city-regions able to propose to the Low Pay Commission new Metro Minimum Wage rates, where these match the functional scale of labour markets. We propose other measures which target both employers and employees at key “moments of change” in career and business trajectories.

Winning local powers over skills funding may be a battle for metros over the next parliament, whoever is in power. But the tone today was optimistic: we heard from cities up and down the country about innovative efforts to get to work on addressing skills mismatches. These include:

- RISE is the UK’s first  city-wide internship scheme which matches graduates from the Sheffield area with supports SMEs who haven’t taken on graduates before. A public-pricate partnership, RISE has attracted 2000 applications for 80 jobs, with 75% of placements leading to permanent jobs

- In Liverpool City Region, Hugh Baird College has established the L20 Hotel School, responding to labour market data which highlighted a lack of top quality chefs. The scheme links top chefs with a selected group of students who would then get placements in the top hotels and restaurants in the City Region.

- Greenwich Council has integrated Adult Learning, job brokerage, work experience and intermediate labour market placements, business support and start-up advice, employer engagement and apprenticeships.

- Working with the North London Chamber of Commerce, the London Borough of Enfield has been part of sector-specific and business-led forums which are developing actions plans covering a breadth of issues: recruitment, retention, training, skills, travel, transport, supply chain options, local procurement and infrastructure.

Looking at the UK workforce in 2022, 90% of workers are already in work today; while 87% of vacancies will be replacing existing workers. Focusing on high-value growth sectors and developing high-level skills is important, but we need inclusive skills policy for the breadth of the workforce. Human Capitals offers evidence-based recommendations on how government, employers and workers themselves can co-invest and co-develop to address the twin challenges of strengthening in-work progression and addressing skills mismatch.

Jonathan Schifferes is research lead for the City Growth Commission hosted at the RSA (@jschifferes)

This blog was originally posted on the website of the City Growth Commission. You can follow the City Growth Commission @citygrowthcom

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