The skills sector is vital for social justice and systemic change

We must rethink the skills sector as the engine of social justice and systemic change, not just economic prosperity

We must rethink the skills sector as the engine of social justice and systemic change, not just economic prosperity

21 Oct 2023, 5:00

A week after returning from the last political party conference in Liverpool, where City & Guilds hosted the first ever Skills Hub as part of the Future Skills Coalition (FSC), I was struck by just how much skills were on the agenda. However, the recent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report is a reminder if we needed it that there has been a long period of significant lack of investment in skills. Conversely, our own recent impact report demonstrates just how much economic and social value is possible when you do invest in skills.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that skills are a force for good. At City & Guilds, the value we add seems to be a ‘no-brainer’, but we really wanted to hold ourselves to account and put some hard data behind our suppositions to make the case for skills. So, in 2019, working with Cranfield University, we set up an impact framework to really understand the value of the skills we develop to people, organisations and wider society. The report clearly demonstrates how our purpose is being put into action.

I am proud to say that 72 per cent of our learners have progressed into further employment or study upon achieving their City & Guilds qualification. That’s good for learners, for businesses and desperately needed for the economy if we want to increase productivity and compete alongside our G7 partners, whom we are currently languishing behind.

Supporting marginalised people

As many of our research reports show, employers are crying out for skilled workers, while at the same time many people are locked out of work. That is why City & Guilds have been investing in numerous programmes to unlock the potential of people who face barriers to the workplace and future success.

One such example is our work with refugees seeking a new life. In the past year we have supported 244 refugees. Today 140 are already in employment. Recipients of our bursary fund also reported a 92 percent increase in feeling optimistic about the future.

In 2022/23, City & Guilds funding supported the training of prisoners in fields like construction, transport and IT. Developing these skills means people have a choice about which path to take upon release, which they often didn’t have upon entering custody. Armed with a skill, they can genuinely choose employment and rehabilitation over recidivism and reincarceration.

Our report shows that for some of our programmes, the reoffending rate is nil. As one bursary recipient recently told us, “As well as providing me with a new skillset to build a successful career, I gained confidence and a chance for a new start.”

Upskilling the UK’s workforce

It’s no secret that the economy and jobs market are changing rapidly. For example, against a backdrop of rapid climate change, many people who work in the energy and utilities industry understand that their jobs will change as energy demands change too. The report shows demand has quadrupled for City & Guilds green skills since 2019.

That is why we have been investing heavily in the creation of skills to support low-carbon industries over recent years, including our new EV charging qualifications. If we want to turn the dial on climate change, it’s crucial that we develop the skills needed to build a robust, highly-skilled workforce to meet the demands of a more sustainable world.

For me, the time is now to look to skills not just as a narrow policy lever, but as a step change for society. The window to reset our thinking about skills and their role in delivering social justice and systemic change is open.

Our impact report shows how we are doing that at City & Guilds and that investment in skills has returned £11.2bn in economic and social value. If the next government took the same approach and saw skills as an investment and leveller for society, imagine what the impact could be then.

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One comment

  1. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that skills are a force for good.” A skill isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s how the skill is applied and the outcome. Even then, different people will have a different perception of whether that outcome is good or bad.

    C&G would have us believe that they have contributed £11.2bn to skills in society. I’m pretty sure the learner and provider played a part. I can guarantee you that if all contributors came up with a set of impact figures to signal their virtues, the sum of the parts would far exceed the whole.

    “we really wanted to hold ourselves to account and put some hard data behind our suppositions to make the case for skills”. A bunch of numbers riddled with assumptions do not equate to hard data, especially when loosely applied.

    Throwing in the phrase ‘no brainer’ as a persuasive linguistic device is on the verge of being disrespectful to the reader.