LGA: Upskilling the Workplace

Source: PSE Dec 19/Jan 20

The Local Government Association (LGA) discusses upskilling and retraining staff in public sector workplace.

As leaders of place, councils and combined authorities want to work with partners across the piste to build strong, resilient economies with a shared vision for their local area and where residents contribute to and benefit from inclusive growth. Fundamental to achieving this is a steady supply of jobs and people with the right skills, fostering local business growth and effective support to help people get on in life.

And as the speed and nature of our economy changes, there needs to be a radical rethink about how the UK adapts to the future jobs market and the challenges and opportunities it faces – from exiting the EU, automation, technological change, the gig economy and extended working lives.

That means that upskilling and retraining existing staff and supporting more people into work needs to be at the top of this new government’s agenda. Doing so is a prerequisite to tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the country, from the housing shortage to social care crisis, and public sector staff play a critical role in this.

Local government is the most efficient part of the public sector and councils alone are often the biggest employers in their local area, supporting the delivery of over 900 local services every single day. The Local Government Association’s Resident Satisfaction Survey time and again confirms that councils continue to provide services that are popular despite the budget pressures they’ve faced and continue to face - which is a tribute to hardworking staff.

Staff are the lifeblood of any council. Millions of people rely on local government to look after their interests – from cleaners to clean their streets and social workers to look after those most in need. This is on top of paving roads, maintaining parks, providing school transport and housing the homeless.

Yet despite this, councils too face their own skills challenges. Over seven per cent of the social care workforce is made up of non-UK EU nationals, rising to 12 per cent in London, and retention has been an issue across the sector for some time.

That is why the LGA has teamed up with the Government Equalities Office again to re-launch its Return to Social Work programme next month to encourage former social workers to re-join the profession.

The Federation of Master Builders also revealed a third of small and medium housebuilders rely on its EU workforce – a figure which rises to 70 per cent in London and the South East. That is despite new apprenticeship data revealing that local government created 16,170 apprenticeship starts in 2018/19 – up from 11,178 the year before, an increase of 44.7 per cent. While we still do not know the terms of Brexit, our future trading relationship and skills support will affect businesses and communities up and down the country.

And though successive national governments have sought to reform the all-age employment and skills system over the last two decades, the UK still has one of the most centralised systems in the world. Failure to address these skills gaps puts at risk up to four per cent of future economic growth – equivalent to the loss of about £90bn of economic output.

So, what can local areas do to upskill and train people across the country – including their own staff – and how can they make the skills systems work for local people?

Given councils have a unique insight and interest in ensuring the needs of employers, both large and small, and in the wider local economy, as a starting point, councils must be consulted on the direction of Britain’s new migration policy to ensure continuity and effectiveness of local public services and that local private and public sector employers have a steady supply of the skills they need to thrive and grow.

The Government needs to end the patchwork of provision by handing funding and control of national of employment and skills schemes, including careers advice, to local areas. At the last count £10.5bn was spent across 20 employment and skills funding streams managed by eight government departments or agencies. There are currently too many organisations and providers involved in careers provision in any one community, including the Careers and Enterprise Company, National Careers Service, Jobcentre Plus, councils, schools and colleges, and all too often these are too short-term, fragmented and hard to join up.

Work Local is our positive vision for change. Led by combined authorities and councils, in partnership with local and national stakeholders, local areas should have the powers and funding to plan, commission and have oversight of a joined-up service bringing together advice and guidance, employment, skills, apprenticeship and business support for individuals and employers.

Across a medium sized combined authority, Work Local could each year result in 8,500 people off out of work benefits, a fiscal boost of £280m, and contribute £420m to the economy.

A place-based approach which is responsive to employer needs but also local areas is essential to addressing skills gaps and shortages by investing adequately in, and targeting, retraining and upskilling support of the current workforce, reduce the number of adults out of work and young people not in education, employment or training – which currently numbers 800,000 across the country.

Finally, it would free councils to build on the success of discretionary local schemes they have set up, using their limited powers and funding, to support young people with their careers, tying them with employment routes that actually exist within their local communities.

Councils can only be effective if they are able to invest in their communities and the staff that help run them. Without the ability to upskill, train and develop those staff, councils will be less equipped to serve their communities.

Skills policy might not always be glamorous, but getting it right is essential to the prosperity of local communities.


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