After a year of virtual events, the political party conference season returned this year giving key players in both big parties the first opportunity to speak to their members – and the wider public – since the general election in 2019. We heard from Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann our CEO about the hot topics from around the two big party conferences:
I spent a couple of days down in Brighton at Labour Party Conference before heading up to Manchester the following week for two days with the Conservatives. Across both events it was clear that the skills agenda and creating high-quality jobs is at the forefront of politicians’ minds and will be a key policy area in the next parliamentary session.
Importantly, at both events, skills were seen not just as an education issue. Access to high-quality skills was seen as fundamental across many different economic policy areas.
In Brighton there was a definite focus on how skills are needed for different sectors. Labour leader Keir Starmer kicked things off by citing our research into the digital skills gap in both his pre-conference policy pamphlet and his speech on the closing day.
I spoke at a fringe meeting hosted by our long-term skills quality partner BAE Systems. While the main focus was the importance of future skills in areas such as manufacturing and technology, it was great to hear our messages on skills quality, international competitiveness and attracting inward investment resonating with the audience.
Also speaking at the BAE Systems meeting was Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healy who was keen to stress that Labour’s plans for education will feature input from ministers with a broad range of portfolios as they seek to address the needs of employers and different industries.
At an IPPR and National Grid event discussing upskilling and reskilling needs across the economy, there was a real focus on how to achieve a more diverse workforce and how important high-quality skills will be if we are to genuinely kickstart a green revolution, boost technological developments, create jobs and propel the economy towards a more prosperous future.
Up to Manchester and it was a similar story with ministers keen to stress their skills credentials. Top prize probably goes to the new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi who said that he intended to be the Secretary of State for aspiration, opportunity and skills.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson put skills at the heart of his levelling up plans in his closing speech – even spelling out his plans to invest in “skills, skills, skills” – while what levelling up may entail was a constant theme on the fringe in Manchester. It was really encouraging to hear panellists and the audience at an NCFE meeting I spoke at agree on the need for a long-term approach to skills and economic development to help make levelling up a success.
As the dust settles on conference season and we move into autumn, it is clear that high-quality skills are on agendas across the political divide. This ensures a busy few months ahead for us as we continue our work highlighting the importance of high-quality skills development across a variety of different sectors and their importance in boosting the economy.
We kick things off next week with our focus on digital careers and the digital skills divide, while our Taskforce For Global Britain will shortly be calling for evidence on boosting inward investment through world-class skills.
Next month we have our conference for educators looking at how to learn from international best practice in skills development and we will continue to work with all our partners to keep the focus on developing high-quality skills for young people, teachers and employers to help the economy recover and grow.