Our CEO Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE explains why developing a “skills economy” is vital to boost inward investment, job creation and economic recovery.

The launch of the Prime Minister’s Build Back Better Business Council augurs well for an approach which will put the needs of business at the forefront of a ‘Global Britain’. Bringing together business leaders from across the UK, the group has been convened to “work in partnership with the government to unlock investment, boost job creation, promote Global Britain and level up the whole of the UK.”

I fully support these aims and it is encouraging to see that the group also includes the Chancellor and Secretaries of State for both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade. Embedding a holistic view of the economy, one which clearly links productivity and competitiveness with external market attractiveness, can only be a positive thing as we look to recover from Covid.

To take this to the next level, an explicit discussion on how to develop a UK “skills economy” should be at the core of the group’s mission as part of building an economic strategy for the future. Building a high-quality skills base has a well-documented, positive impact on learners, employers, and the economy. It has also been consistently proven to drive inward investment. Indeed, the message from EY’s 2020 inward investment report is that investors prioritise skills supply over many other factors when looking for a location for their capital. Investors summarised that future government policy should focus on the quality of infrastructure and skills.

Through the government’s recent ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper for England, it is clear that policymakers recognise the need to link explicitly skills development with the needs of employers and the economy. But there is much more we can do to avoid the UK falling behind the curve in an increasingly competitive globalised market. The need to act is stark. The Open University’s annual Business Barometer for 2020 found that 56% of UK organisations continue to experience skills shortages, with £6.6bn being spent to plug short term gaps during 2020 alone.

Put in this wider context, now is the time for further public investment in skills aligned with economic growth.  Public finances are of course stretched, but an investment in high-quality skills pays dividends. Recent research from Frontier Economics found that over the past two years, our own work has delivered benefits of between £40m and £76m, based on the £17m invested by the government, which is an indication of the potential return on investment of committing to develop higher quality skills.

A focus on a “skills economy” will also equip the UK well in key growth sectors. Chief amongst these is digital, an area which WorldSkills UK has been growing its work in recent years. Our programmes and support have moved into new digital areas, ranging from cyber security to 3D games, industrial robotics and building information modelling, in turn recognising that digital skills will be a centrepiece of the UK’s economic growth strategy.

By working with our partners in colleges, training providers and employers, and investing more in a broader range of skills to reach global standards, we are helping develop the skills base needed to attract more inward investment into economies across the UK’s nations and regions. I hope that government, as well as its Build Back Better Council, understands that developing a “skills economy” is vital to boost inward investment, job creation and economic recovery.

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