How Leeds will meet skills challenge – James Lewis

OVER the summer you may have read in The Yorkshire Post about a lack of HGV drivers and the challenges many businesses have faced in finding staff to keep going because of Covid-19 self-isolation rules.

Leeds City Council has just launched its Future Talent Plan.

In Leeds, we have also heard from technology businesses who are struggling to recruit fast enough to cope with the demand for their services and social care providers who are finding it hard to hold on to staff. 

All of this is because we are going through a huge period of change in our economy. Some of these changes were already happening before Covid-19 like the move to online shopping. We are also working to new rules about who can come and work in the UK since we left the European Union.

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At the same time, the Government has changed the way it funds education and skills development, and West Yorkshire, including Leeds, has now got more powers as a result of devolution.

James Lewis is leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire deputy mayor, leading on skills and employment.

The new Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, has made pledges which promote jobs, skills and training and she has asked me to lead on this work building on the West Yorkshire Skills Commission proposals for simpler local training funds linked to what employers need.

All this change is hard for people and businesses to handle, but it isn’t going to slow down or go away any time soon. That means we need to think about how we can support people and businesses to get the right skills to ensure they can be successful despite the challenges.

For that reason, Leeds City Council has kicked off a conversation on talent and skills at https://futuretalentleeds.org to hear what people, businesses and other organisations in Leeds think and need to help us shape a new plan for the city.

We want to get a better understanding of the skills and talent needed to help people across the city to have a rewarding working life. We also want to know what businesses need to thrive in the face of change. We want to make sure that universities, colleges and other organisations are provided with the right support to be able to help people and businesses reach their potential. 

Leeds City Council has just launched its Future Talent Plan.

This conversation will help us write our Future Talent Plan which we will publish in spring 2022. The council has chosen to crowdsource the plan, meaning that it will be developed with and owned by the city. The website is a key part of this, as it is set up like a workshop but online.

People can anonymously share their experiences and ideas by answering key questions we have asked based on what we know is happening in the city now. Additionally, people can interact with one another by commenting and voting on each other’s responses.

To make it easy for people who can’t access the website paper versions will be in all our community hubs and libraries. We want to hear from lots of different people because that way, we’ll develop the best plan for the city.

Covid-19 has hit the city hard and has made inequalities worse, with Yorkshire being shown to have some of the highest rates of in-work poverty. Certain groups such as part-time workers, low-paid workers, black, asian and minority ethnic workers and lone parents (who are mostly women) have also been hit harder by the pandemic.

There have been good things that have happened too. For example, it has made many employers reconsider how often staff need to be in the office and what can be done from home. This has been positive for many, particularly those with caring responsibilities or on low pay with the opportunity to make savings on travel costs.

Now that restrictions have lifted it is also good for employers to be able to bring staff back together in their offices for team working and to improve mental wellbeing. How we achieve the right balance will be something all employers will be working through in coming months.

We’ve also seen an increased interest from businesses in making sure they have a diverse workforce, technology businesses in particular want to represent the local population much more.

I’m realistic about the challenges we face but I am also optimistic about our future. In Leeds we have brilliant people and businesses, we have fantastic colleges and universities and many organisations that work in our communities to support people into work.

I know that people are not short of opinions in our city, but we’re also problem solvers and together we can put a plan in place to make sure everyone can succeed. Please join in the conversation and help us do just that.

James Lewis is leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire deputy mayor, leading on skills and employment. See https://futuretalentleeds.org/welcome for further details.

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