Without skills, businesses are “driving with the handbrake on”

Top employers working with government at new Skills for Growth conference to address skills shortages and drive economic growth.

The government’s Business Connect -Skills for Growth conference takes place today (22 June), hosting some of the biggest British and international companies to discuss how we can create a workforce fit for the future and address the urgent recruitment needs of businesses.

The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will speak at the event, alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Skills Minister Robert Halfon and Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake alongside the government’s independent skills policy adviser, Sir Michael Barber.

Among the major employers attending to discuss the future of skills are Google and Amazon, as well as BP, BAE Systems, Virgin Atlantic, Thames Water, Greene King and Travis Perkins.

In May 2023, there were 1,051,000 job vacancies in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. In 2019, 24 per cent of vacancies were the result of skills shortages.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan said: “I know from my years in business that organisations drive innovation and create opportunities, but without skilled workers, it often feels like you’re driving with the handbrake on. The Government is investing in building future skills for growth and calling on businesses to work with us, so that together we can build the workforce of tomorrow.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “While unemployment is at near record lows, we still have some 1 million job vacancies in the UK. Getting businesses the skilled workers they need will not only grow the economy, but help cut inflation too. Today’s conference will bring together some of the biggest businesses in Britain and help us make sure our workforce has the skills for the future.”

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “Successful companies need skilled workforces and as the Business and Trade Secretary I want to listen to the needs of business to ensure that the skills system delivers for them, creates even more highly skilled jobs and grows the economy. This conference is vital to show how government can support business to build our skills base and ensure we have the right workforce for the jobs of the future.”

In addition to the conference, the government is urging employers to hire more apprentices, especially younger workers, and to invest more in training and upskilling their workforce. We are also highlighting the wide range of government-backed courses and support which is available, including Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs as well as £2.7 billion of additional funding to support businesses to take on more apprentices and the ongoing rollout of T Levels.

In all, over 200 delegates are due to attend, representing a huge range of different sectors, from engineering and aerospace, to digital technology, retail and managing the environment.

They will meet many people benefiting from government skills programmes, including apprentices, T Level students, people taking Higher Technical Qualifications and participants in Skills Bootcamps, discussing their experiences.

The event is also being delivered in partnership with World Skills UK, who organise the participation of skilled UK professionals in the world’s largest competitive skills showcase. Previous winners of World Skills events will also be present to discuss their experiences.

The critical mass of expertise assembled at the Business Connect – Skills for Growth conference will inspire business leaders and help to grow the UK economy, creating jobs, prosperity and opportunity for people regardless of their background whilst plugging critical skills gaps which many businesses face.

Google Senior Director and MD for Technology, Media, Telecoms & Apps, David Black, said: “Digital skills are critical for boosting productivity, unlocking economic opportunities and enabling tech-led growth for every corner of the UK. That’s why we have visited more than 500 locations across the country and trained over 1 million Brits with skills that they’ve gone on to use to grow their businesses and further their careers. We’re delighted to be working with the Government to share our expertise and to help teach the skills needed to address the UK’s skills gap.”

John Boumphrey, VP and UK country manager at Amazon said: “At Amazon, we know that investing in skills is vital to business success and employee satisfaction. Bringing together the public, private and education sectors is critical to creating the initiatives and pathways that we need to create the workforce of the future. We are eager to rise to that challenge, whether it be creating thousands of apprenticeships, new retraining opportunities for people in the middle of their career, or better routes into work for those from underserved or under-represented backgrounds.”

Simon Lambert, Chief Learning Officer at Microsoft UK, said: “Digital skills are critical to seizing the opportunities for the UK now and in the future. We must tap into the ingenuity of the workforce and create the optimal conditions to encourage lifelong learning in digital skills. This is why Microsoft’s Get On campaign is training 1.5 million people with the technical skills they need and why we will continue to be committed to supporting digital skills in the era of AI.”

Chief Operating Officer, BAE Systems Air sector Ian Muldowney said: “As a former apprentice and now an industry leader, I can attest to how crucial apprenticeships are to BAE Systems and our wider supply chain. They ensure the next-generation of skills and ingenuity are maintained through a pipeline of talent which enhances our programmes, strengthens our workforce and supports UK sovereign capabilities.”

CEO of Travis Perkins plc and Construction Leadership Council Industry Sponsor for People & Skills Nick Roberts said: “Today’s conference brings together senior Ministers from Government and Industry Leaders to address one of the biggest challenges facing the UK; the skills gap. Construction makes a significant contribution to the UK’s economy (just under 9% GDP), so addressing this and developing a more diverse and skilled workforce is vital. The Construction Leadership Council has set out a clear plan for how to tackle these challenges by creating more entry routes for high-skilled, well-paid jobs, encouraging businesses to invest in their workforce and to adopt modern methods of construction, particularly focused on the transition to net zero. Working in partnership with the Government is paramount, if we are to deliver this plan and create a built environment that we can all be proud of.”

Caroline Prendergast, Chief Learning Officer at KPMG UK, said: “At KPMG, we recognise the important role we play in creating career opportunities and providing future generations with the skills they need to become the business leaders of tomorrow. Our apprenticeships are vital in helping to widen access to our profession, including from a social mobility perspective. Currently, a quarter of our 3,750-strong student population are apprentices, and we’re incredibly proud of them. With careers ranging from paralegal, data and analytics, consulting to tax and accountancy, our apprenticeships provide a highly valued route to qualification. Alongside the core curriculum, we also focus on both essential and future skills, ensuring all our new recruit have what they need to really thrive in their career.”

Ian Elliott, Chief People Officer at PwC, said: “The UK needs an upskilling revolution. Our country’s long-term economic and social prosperity depends on the next generation of workers being equipped for an AI-powered world. Government cannot solve the skills challenge alone. Businesses cannot expect education providers to anticipate evolving business needs. We have a responsibility to use our positions as progressive employers to collaborate across the public and private sectors to advance and innovate education pathways to meet need and aspiration.”

Cathryn Ross, Director of Strategy and External Affairs at Thames Water, said: “To get the workforce we need we must invest in skills so people can have successful and sustainable careers. Expanding our apprenticeship schemes and welcoming T-Level students is crucial to our plans to build a pipeline of skills from our communities and from the education sector. We are committed to investing in future talent to ensure we have a diverse and inclusive workforce that represents the customers we serve and we’re excited to be offering further access to career opportunities to drive social mobility and provide good work for all.”

Neil Morrison, HR Director at Severn Trent said: “We have the opportunity to make a difference, so we’re proud to be part of a moment that is helping encourage building skills. We’re passionate about ensuring people, and businesses have access to the right skills and tools, and Skills for Growth fits in with our own commitment in helping people into work. Creating more opportunities for people to reach their potential, and creating a fantastic skills network in the UK and talent pipeline, which is both great for our communities and the local economy.”

Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer, Virgin Atlantic, said: “Aviation contributes enormously to the vibrancy of the UK economy, creating the high-quality jobs and skills needed to spur growth and future- proof the UK workforce. Early career pathways that encourage a diverse talent pipeline and address STEM skill gaps can be maximised through an accessible and flexible apprenticeship levy. At Virgin Atlantic we’ve used the levy extensively to create an apprenticeship programme, within which this year attracted 500 engineering applicants alone, with 63% from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Empowering the next generation to reach their potential, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic background, is intrinsic to our purpose that everyone can take on the world.”

Marcella M’Rabety, Group Head of Education, Skills and Employment at Manchester Airports Group (MAG) said: “Skilled employment opportunities are integral to creating a pipeline of talent across the UK and in particular the aviation sector. At MAG we have a long-standing commitment to providing opportunities to the communities which live closest to our airports to stimulate economic activity in the regions they serve. We have supported thousands of young people and job seekers with their aspirations through education and employment support, and skills training. Earlier this month, we launched an airport operations apprenticeship scheme at Manchester Airport – the first of its kind in the UK aviation sector.  The scheme will see at least 30 local people gain a foundation degree level qualification completely debt free, and support their development to become aviation leaders of the future.”

Vickie Elsey, people and culture director at Greene King, said: “It’s a huge honour to represent our industry at the Skills for Growth conference and showcase the great potential hospitality offers as a career path for millions of people UK-wide. Our sector is vital for economic growth in the UK, contributing £54bn to the Treasury in 2022 alone. It is important it is recognised as a skilled profession as it offers a great opportunity to drive social mobility, giving people the chance build a long and successful career and in many cases go on to run their own business.”

EVP, people & culture at bp, Kerry Dryburgh, said: “Giving people opportunities for success and making careers accessible – regardless of background – is something I am deeply passionate about, having started as an apprentice myself, and it is also central to bp’s ethos. At bp, we know that delivering the energy system of today and the energy transition to net zero will require skills and talent. That’s why we invest deeply in our workforce – including creating more apprenticeships, graduate schemes, and work experience placements with a focus on social mobility – so there is opportunity for all, regardless of their start.”


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