TO BRITAIN’S political elite, the most important – and, at times, only word – in their lexicon is ‘Brexit’ as Parliament resumes following a three-and-a-half week adjournment for the annual party conferences.
It’s not. It should be ‘skills’ and the need, irrespective of the manner of Britain’s departure from the EU, to equip people with the know-how that will enable them – and this country – to flourish in a high-tech, digital-first economy as automation supplants manual roles.
Yet, as MPs agonise over Britain’s trading relationship with the rest of the world, it was always going to have to respond to the skills revolution – it existed long before Brexit – and the need for education and training policy to move with the times.
And today’s report by the well-respected Centre for Cities think-tank makes the case powerfully. Not only does it reveal how automation and globalisation are transforming the skills agenda, but it highlights how children, young people and adults in most of Yorkshire’s cities are still lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to gaining ‘robot ready’ skills and qualifications.
Indicative of the North-South divide in both attainment, and funding, it’s another reminder that the school curriculum needs to be far more closely aligned to the needs of industry. Despite increased awareness about the importance of STEM subjects, the National College of High Speed Rail at Doncaster has been struggling to recruit sufficient young engineers. Why?
To its credit, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership is advancing the skills agenda here. However it can’t do it alone. It requires co-ordinated action nationally, regionally and locally to help young people make the most of their schooling – and abilities – in a changing economy where automation, according to Chancellor Philip Hammond, will have a greater impact on people’s jobs, and futures, than Brexit. The regret is Government infighting meant insufficient credence was given to this assertion at the Tory conference as the case for an annual skills audit, on a region by region basis, becomes paramount.