South Yorkshire Mayor's top priority should the skills gap - Karen Mosley

There will undoubtedly be numerous demands on the newly elected Mayor of South Yorkshire when the dust settles after next Thursday’s vote.

But one of the most urgent requirements must be to recognise the importance of the private and voluntary sectors and to give the region’s skills agenda the critical attention it requires.

This afternoon, voters will get the chance to hear from the mayoral candidates at a South Yorkshire hustings, jointly hosted by Doncaster Chamber, Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber and Sheffield Chamber. The priority for the successful candidate must be to address the skills gap which is deeply affecting the region.

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Sheffield from above. Pic: AdobeStock.

Skills drive productivity and wages – however the average output of workers in South Yorkshire is around a fifth less than the rest of the UK. Not only has that gap failed to narrow in nearly 20 years, South Yorkshire underperforms the UK on most indicators of employee skills.

This productivity gap is intrinsically linked to record skills shortages that are blighting the region. In the first quarter of 2022, 93 per cent of South Yorkshire businesses that tried to recruit experienced difficulties – a record high.

Professional and managerial roles have proved to be the hardest for employers to fill as 39 per cent of skills-shortage job vacancies in South Yorkshire are high-skilled, five per cent above the national average.

If South Yorkshire firms had access to the advanced digital skills that they require, then that would upgrade 13,000 businesses with the latest know-how.

Such an upgrade would tremendously boost productivity in South Yorkshire and lead to a significantly larger economy in the region. If the output of South Yorkshire’s workers equalled England’s average, the region’s economy (GVA) would be £7.2bn bigger.

Over the past year, the South Yorkshire Chambers (SYC) worked together after being selected as one of eight national trailblazers rolling out new Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIP) on behalf of the Department for Education.

We consulted hundreds of businesses as part of the project and worked in tandem with other business organisations including colleagues at CBI, FSB, the Manufacturing Forum, and Sheffield Digital. We also worked with the broader skills community.

Today, following on from our preparatory work, we are publishing our new People and Skills Manifesto. The document will include 40 practical recommendations for the creation of a more agile and responsive skills system in South Yorkshire. We hope that, within 100 days of the Mayor taking office, this document can form the backbone of a new Skills Strategy for the region. Our Manifesto can help the Mayor make the case to Government for further devolution of powers and resources to our region.

Success depends on our ability to capitalise on opportunities to bring further jobs, prestige and investment opportunities to South Yorkshire. We’re already getting this right in the region’s rail sector, just one of the compelling reasons why Great British Railways should relocate to South Yorkshire and why the new Mayor should be doing everything in their power to secure this opportunity.

The success of the LSIP demonstrates that the region must put the business-facing engagement of skills and trade bodies piloted in the scheme onto a permanent footing with an ongoing, funded programme of activity.

As business organisations, the Chambers, CBI and FSB work with thousands of companies every year and have members that, collectively, employ hundreds of thousands of people. As evidenced through the success of collaborative projects such as the LSIP and the region’s Business Advisory Group, the SYC work well together and share a determination to represent businesses authentically and constructively.

Our businesses create jobs, wealth, and contribute significantly to the public purse and they roll their sleeves up and get actively involved in civic life and the betterment of our region.

We support schools, create apprenticeships and graduate opportunities, invest in people development, actively seek to reduce carbon footprints, and create local supply chain opportunities. We also support good causes and charities.

We do these things because they make commercial sense and because we’re heavily invested in the success of South Yorkshire and its people. As business organisations, we want to see the Mayor to fully recognise the importance of the private and voluntary sectors, and celebrate employers as a force for good.

Karen Mosley is President of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.