The 5% Club founder, Leo Quinn, Chief Executive of Balfour Beatty, is proposing coordinated action to protect the UK’s younger talent and skills system.
Energy & Utility Skills has supported the call by Balfour Beatty Chief Executive, Leo Quinn, to take a more strategic approach to protecting the sustainability of the future workforce as the nation tackles its exit from the pandemic. Balfour Beatty are longstanding members of Energy & Utility Skills, but also founding partners of the successful Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, which brings together gas, power, water and waste management utilities and the major supply chain partners in addressing the main workforce challenges.
In his call to arms, on behalf of the 5% club that he founded in 2013, Quinn advises “Our collective recovery – business, social, economic – will be defined by human, not just financial, capital – or lack of”.
The impact of COVID-19 on today’s young is a ticking time-bomb. We cannot let future generations face possible lifelong setbacks because of this crisis We must not look the other way. We need to tap into that incredible spirit of social responsibility that has been so heartening in recent weeks. And we need to carry it beyond the immediate period of the lockdown to secure a strong future for those leaving education in the next few years – not least because their skills – or lack thereof – will shape or hamper our national recovery.
The proposal then puts forward a number of changes to ensure the UK’s labour market resilience, but also to protect and nurture the working careers of the younger generation who could suffer particular detriment from the damage caused to the economy by the global virus. These include:
- Encouraging employers to hold their nerve and look beyond the current crisis, using the furlough scheme where necessary, but prioritising apprenticeship, graduate and other earn-and-learn schemes to maintain the talent and opportunity pipeline – not least because it will hinder long-term economic recovery if we do not have the right workforce coming through the ranks.
- Many training providers are struggling for survival, themselves. We cannot revive the economy without training and assessment capability The sector needs its own rescue package so that apprenticeships and T-Levels can carry on, now and once the crisis is over.
- For those currently apprenticing in the worst-hit sectors, the Government should facilitate passporting to allow quick conversion to sectors with similar skills needs. Even as unemployment figures spiral, there will be sectors facing critical skills shortages, which must be signposted to talented young people to enable them to build on the skills they have already acquired.
- Earn-and-learn routes are part of our fightback to skills, growth and social mobility. However, the Government needs to aid employers with both a cash-injection into the Apprenticeship Levy and its overdue reform, or it will become simply a multiplier of failure.
The proposal comes out just prior to the utility sector launching its major Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy (launched on 9 June), calling for a more coherent approach to UK labour market and workforce strategy in the post pandemic and European exit environment. Balfour Beatty has played a major contributing role to the document and collaboration. The new strategy focuses on ensuring workforce sustainability from 2020 to 2025 and is seeking to attract the nation’s best talent to the utility infrastructure and services businesses, that will empower the economic growth ambitions and play one of the most significant roles in meeting the net zero carbon challenge.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly referred to the role that infrastructure will play in the future of our recover plans, and to do this, a fresh approach is needed to make the currently disjointed skills and labour market polices around the UK, align to a common and vital national objective. As pointed out by the 5% Club founder, the lack of strategic approach is inefficient, unhelpful and under the current ‘whatever it takes’ mindset, simple to fix.
Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, recently addressed MPs and Peers on the subject at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure. He advised “At present, there is an insufficiently joined-up approach to infrastructure skills development in the UK, with a wide range of responsible bodies operating across different geographic and political boundaries. The human capital aspects of the National Infrastructure Plan for Skills need to be refreshed to help ensure our pipeline of future workers is adequate for the challenges ahead.”
Speaking about the latest announcement by the 5% Club founder, Energy & Utility Skills Chief Executive, Nick Ellins, advised “Many aspects of this worthy call to arms by Leo Quinn are echoed in the utility sector’s new Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy and we look forward to collaborating very closely to help with the solutions. In the recent budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear just how vital human capital would be in ensuring the productivity and post European future of this nation. That was when the pandemic was in its infancy, and as Leo points out in his 5% Club proposal, the stakes have raised greatly.”
“The fact is that the current skills system is not geared towards creating jobs where they are needed most, guiding talent to the most critical industries or ensuring the UK will stay a global economic leader. Despite virtually all of the key policy levers for infrastructure, the labour market, work, immigration and productivity now sitting centrally, the subject of skills has become ever more marginalised, devolved and fragmented with no strategic coordination at all between macro and micro aims. Just a few months ago, all four nations and every major UK business sector were openly explaining the labour market challenge being faced and the Office of National Statistics had confirmed the most constrained labour market environment since records began. The time is now right for our governments to provide the guiding mind and show UK-wide collaboration, so that all the vital pieces of the workforce puzzle spread across the four nations, join up in to one recognisable picture.”