Businesses ‘driving with handbrake on’ amid skills shortage

During the Government’s Business Connect Skills for Growth conference, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan claimed that businesses are facing obstacles without the necessary skills. She emphasised that organisations drive innovation and create opportunities, but the absence of skilled workers often feels like ‘driving with the handbrake on’. The Government is committed to investing in building future skills for growth and calls on businesses to collaborate in order to build the workforce of tomorrow.

The conference featured guest speakers such as Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Skills Minister Robert Halfon, Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, and independent skills policy adviser Sir Michael Barber. Prominent employers, including Google, Amazon, BP, BAE Systems, Virgin Atlantic, Thames Water, Greene King, and Travis Perkins, attended to discuss the future of skills.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 1,051,000 job vacancies in the UK in May 2023, with 24% of vacancies in 2019 attributed to skills shortages. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt highlighted that while unemployment is low, addressing the one million job vacancies in the UK requires providing businesses with the skilled workers they need, which would contribute to economic growth and help reduce inflation.

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch expressed the importance of meeting the needs of businesses to ensure the skills system delivers highly skilled jobs and fosters economic growth.

In addition to the conference, the Government is urging employers to hire more apprentices, particularly younger workers, and invest in training and upskilling their workforce. They are also promoting government-backed courses and support initiatives such as Skills Bootcamps, Free Courses for Jobs, an additional £2.7 billion in funding to support businesses in hiring more apprentices, and the ongoing rollout of T Levels.

The conference was organized in partnership with World Skills UK, which coordinates the participation of skilled UK professionals in the world’s largest competitive skills showcase. Previous winners of World Skills events shared their experiences and insights.

Ian Elliott, Chief People Officer at PwC, stressed the need for an upskilling revolution in the UK, emphasising that long-term economic and social prosperity depends on equipping the next generation of workers for an AI-powered world. He called for collaboration between public and private sectors to advance and innovate education pathways to meet evolving business needs.