Showing off the country’s skills is missing from the International Education Strategy

1 Mar 2021, 6:00

International investors will only help us build back better if the International Education Strategy shows off our workforce skills, writes Neil-Bentley Gockmann

The launch of the government’s updated “International Education Strategy” before the half-term break was very welcome. But there is a missed opportunity in it.

The strategy was updated to include the new Turing Scheme, through which young people will be supported to take up training opportunities overseas. This is good news as we have seen repeatedly the positive impact that periods of training in other countries can have for young people’s confidence and future success.

So we welcome that our international competitions-based training programme is included in the qualifying criteria for funding.

The updated strategy also rightly seeks to boost export opportunities designed to leverage the quality of the UK offer to help improve the skills systems in other countries.

We are keen to leverage our WorldSkills global network in over 80 countries to support these discussions alongside our partners in the UK Skills Partnership, supported by the Department for International Trade.

But the strategy as it stands should do more to demonstrate the quality of skills being developed across the UK, to encourage international investors to finance new ventures here.

‘Mismatch in skills supply and demand’

This would align with the recent Skills for Jobs white paper, which wants colleges and training providers to work more with employers and so recognises that skills quality and local economic development go hand in hand.

For example, Jaguar Land Rover’s owners in India have recently announced the company will soon produce electric vehicles from its Midlands base. The skills and innovation ecosystem that surrounds their plants, including Warwickshire College Group and Warwick University, made this a good opportunity for more investment.

Yet the opportunity to showcase skills quality of this kind is missing in the strategy.

This is despite management consultancy EY’s annual “Attractiveness Survey”, which assesses a country’s appeal as an inward investment destination, repeatedly highlighting concerns about the UK’s skills pipeline.

In May 2020, EY’s research showed the “skills of the workforce” was deemed more important by international investors than government support and infrastructure.

‘Closer work with local colleges’

To help meet this challenge, we are working with partners in three new ways. EY’s survey showed a clear investor interest in digital potential, so firstly we explored this in our report published in July last year, titled Answering the Call for Digital Skills Excellence.

We identified a geographic mismatch in the demand for, and supply of, high-quality digital skills. We are exploring this further with new evidence due next month and are planning further work to develop the clean tech and advanced manufacturing sectors.

Secondly, we are continuing our work on benchmarking quality against other major global economies. In line with the priority countries set out in the International Education Strategy, we are working on a number of new partnership deals with our WorldSkills peers in major economies, including in Asia Pacific.

These represent a commitment to share global best practice in skills development and enable us to bring innovation back home.  

Thirdly, we are working to deliver more impact locally with clear demand from college leaders.

Through our Centre of Excellence, which launched last year in partnership with awarding organisation NCFE, and our new Innovation Network, which we announced in January, we are working with some 160 partner institutions across the country.

The aim is to equip teachers with the knowledge to bring world-class standards and global best practice into the mainstream curriculum. This will support the development of over 40,000 young people and boost economic development.

‘Export the UK’s credentials overseas’

By working on improving skills quality with our partners we are helping to realise the government’s ambitions for recovery.

We must improve the UK’s credentials by exporting our skills know-how and showcasing our high-quality skills base to attract more long-term inward investment.

That’s why we are keen to work with colleagues in government to make sure high-quality skills development is factored into the new International Education Strategy.

It must become a core part of the UK’s strategy for building back better.

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