For decades we have been making the case that we need an active industrial strategy both for the UK and for our region. For too long the West Midlands has failed to punch its weight and capitalise upon its historic strengths. Short termism, under investment, neglect and a failure to tackle entrenched deprivation and grow the industries of tomorrow means that we have, over the last thirty years, failed to produce enough of the great jobs that we need to give all our citizens job security, opportunity and a rewarding and prosperous future.
But, just because we haven’t grasped the nettle in previous decades does not mean we shouldn’t now. Indeed, its exciting times for our region with the opportunities provided through devolution and HS2. We simply must ensure that our industrial policy works to use these developments in a fashion that helps to support people from deprived backgrounds into rewarding work. Tackling this entrenched deprivation is not only a moral imperative but an economic one. As a region we simply cannot afford not to maximise the skills and talents of all our citizens.
We desperately need the investment in infrastructure to grow. Our rail, road, bus and tram networks all need significant improvements. We need to deliver significant housing infrastructure and we must support our thriving industries through a focus on skills and R&D.
A key plank of our strategy must be to deliver a great jobs agenda – great jobs, better pay, more opportunities for all. From this strategic focus do all other policies and interventions follow. Living standards have stagnated for too long and too many people are struggling to make ends which is acting as a drag on the economic competitiveness of the region. Smart use of levers such as public procurement can go a long way to delivering the better pay the region needs. And, in so doing, driving the wage-led growth we need to secure a more sustainable and equitable economic base for our region in the years ahead.
An industrial strategy that looks to secure the investment in our physical assets, our business base and in our people is much needed and provides a potential road map to a brighter future.
We can’t wait for great jobs to arrive. We have to make them a reality and I look forward to working with the WMCA and the mayor to make these world class ambitions a reality.
TUC Midlands Regional Secretary
Invest in skills, create learning opportunities and provide progression routes for all people currently in work
Increase the supply of high-quality routes into work and training for young people and those outside the labour market
Empower people to adapt to structural changes in the local economy that may arise from new technology, automation and transition to low-carbon economy.
The WMCA industrial strategy will be operating in the context of a significant retrenchment in the provision of training and skills across the country. Many of the skills challenges faced in the WMCA region are driven by national policy decisions, such as cuts to Further Education (FE) funding, and the Adult Skills Budget, too, has been cut by two fifths since 2010. In basic skills, England is the only country in the OECD where 16 to 24–year olds are ‘no more literate or numerate than 55- to 64-year-olds’. It is therefore more important than ever that the WMCA use the powers they have over skills policy to invest and ensure this delivers the number and type of skills that meet the needs of the current and future workforce.
A core objective of the WMCA’s industrial strategy should be to address the low levels of participation in learning by adults and to drive up the number of employers investing in training and providing time off to train.
The total number of adult learners fell from 4 million in 2005 to about 2.2 million by 2016. Most of this decrease was driven by falls in the number of learners taking low-level qualifications. According to the 2017 Employer Skills Survey conducted by the government, one third of UK employers did not train any of their staff in the past year and 38 per cent of workers received no training. Employer investment in continuing vocational training per employee in the UK is half the EU average and investment in training and learning per UK employee fell by 13.6 per cent per employee in real-terms between 2007 and 2015.
There are some examples of good practice that addresses forthcoming skills needs resulting from major infrastructure projects. We welcome the establishment of the high-speed rail national college and the HS2-TUC Framework Agreement, which includes several important principles in support of boosting skills and apprenticeships as high-speed rail is rolled out.
These agreements, which should include clauses to support upskilling, high-quality apprenticeships and a focus on the local workforce, can be replicated on a regional and local level when commissioning significant infrastructure projects.
The devolution of parts of skills policy to Mayoral Combined Authorities in 2019/20 creates significant opportunities for local leaders to widen access to education and training for lowwaged workers. The WCAA could build on the existing government pilot that fully funds courses to learners aged over 19 who earn less than £15,736 a year (higher in London with the Mayor linking the threshold to the London Living Wage), which applies to both full and part time workers.
The WMCA should also explicitly champion FE as a key component in the educational infrastructure of the region. Whilst recognising the strength in HE that the region is rightly proud of, the FE infrastructure across the WMCA has been under severe pressure in recent years. Any skills strategy will inevitably have a strong reliance on FE and we need to do more in the West Midlands to support this sector.
The draft industrial strategy refers to the creation of employer-led taskforces, for each of the priority sectors, to drive curriculum and skills provision that meets employers’ needs. While this may help businesses in the short term, there need to be a balanced approach that takes into account not just the immediate needs of employers, but also the longer-term aspirations around social mobility and skill development. The taskforces would be better balanced through a social partnership approach.
Access to skills, training and good jobs are particularly important for young people and those outside the labour market. In general, young workers are disproportionately affected by wage stagnation, concentrated in low paying jobs, lacking access to the skills development to get on in work, especially vulnerable to insecure work and are less likely to have union representation or be part of a collective bargaining agreement at work than older workers.
The TUC continues to have concerns about the poor-quality of too many apprenticeships and the exploitation of some young people who embark on an apprenticeship. Whilst a good apprenticeship is an excellent means of developing a career for many young people, participating in a poor-quality placement is likely to damage their confidence and career prospects. In addition, there is a large amount of evidence showing that certain groups - including women, BAME groups, and disabled people – do not get fair access to the best apprenticeships.
Areas should make a commitment to high quality apprenticeships and to take forward measures to widen access to education and training for low-waged workers. We welcome the commitment of the WMCA to sign the TUC Apprenticeship Charter, which ensures every apprenticeship has purpose, is paid fairly, with high-quality learning and training elements and access to trade unions.
Access to an effective career’s advice and guidance service, bespoke to the local economy and skills, can help young people and those furthest away from the labour market enter goodquality work. Decision makers should look at how to develop an accessible advice and guidance system for the WMCA region, including high quality information about local opportunities, that effectively links skills progression and sustainable careers.
The WMCA and constituent LEPs should work in partnership with schools to ensure that education, skills and employment strategies work together to ensure smooth, accessible pathways for all young people to move into high-quality work and promote understanding among students in schools and colleges about future job opportunities specific to the region. This should include means to ensure that the T-Level curriculum in local schools and colleges is fit for purpose, ensuring that school and college leavers are equipped with relevant skills but also common workplace skills that provide the ability to enter and progress in the world of work.
As part of the wider agenda of tackling entrenched deprivation school outreach work target schools in these communities to both encourage students to continue with their education and to outline the potential good job opportunities available to them across the WMCA.
The WMCA and LEPs should also work with unions and local training providers to ensure that young workers engaged in apprenticeships are provided with information, advice and guidance on employment rights and other aspects of work that help them progress at work.
Decision makers across the WMCA area must ensure provisions to support and upskill workers to respond to new technologies, automation and changes to ways of working as part of their strategic skills plan. This is especially true if today’s jobs in higher polluting industries are to be replaced over time with jobs in greener sectors.
The OECD has argued that 14 per cent of workers in developed countries may see their jobs being “entirely restructured … or significantly downsized” while another 32 per cent of jobs will face considerable change in the way they are delivered. Those most at risk as a result of this change will be those workers who receive little training from their employer and face barriers to adult learning, including low basic skills and lack of time off to train. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills assesses those occupational groups most at risk and with a predicted net fall in jobs as administration/secretarial, skilled trades, process, plant and machine operatives. It is essential that a local industrial strategy has measures in place to anticipate change, jobs at risk and provide the retraining and careers advice that enables workers to cope with this transition.
Analysis by the Centre for Progressive Policy provides details on the numbers of jobs at risk by local authority with some, such as Sandwell in the West Midlands, with over 34 per cent of total employment in this category. Over half of the local authorities identified as ‘high risk’ according to the CPP were in the north of England and the Midlands.
The National Retraining Partnership, with £100m funding for the pilot programme before full roll out planned for 2022, is a new approach bringing the government, CBI and TUC together at 7 a national level to develop a dynamic approach to retraining that will incorporate careers advice and retraining opportunities for groups of workers in parts of the economy most exposed to the risk. Working with local Skills Advisory Panels, the NRP will be able to coordinate responses to redundancy and closures but also to proactively map the local economy and offer retraining to workers in line with the skills needs of the new economy.
Skills Advisory Panels (SAPs) will be integrated into MCAs and LEPs in order to map local skills needs and inform the local industrial strategies. The government’s industrial strategy white paper states that the SAPs will engage “local actors, including businesses and education providers, to determine local growth priorities”. The TUC believes that the social partnership approach taken to the NRP at a national level should be reflected at the regional and local level so that unions are engaged and able to inform the work of the SAP and the NRP. SAPs should be used to map skills and learning needs in their broadest sense, identifying the obstacles that people in work face in accessing training and development and working with employers to address them.
Unions are well place to support this work through their role in negotiating learning agreements in the workplace, brokering skills support, facilitating access to workers in emergency closure and redundancy situations and help proactively engage members employed at risk sectors. Union Learning demonstrates long-term success in boosting workers’ skills. Four-in-ten (80 per cent) of those who’ve undertaken union learning develop skills that they can transfer to a new job, and 62 per cent believe that their new skills make them more effective at their current role.
Through the promotion of employment charters, the intelligent use of procurement and advocacy and soft powers, metro mayors and other local political leaders – working in partnership with LEPs and trade unions, should ensure that the industrial strategy has a core aim of driving up employer engagement in training, with a view to increasing:
Ensure local skills strategies are aligned with infrastructure and investment decisions and employment and training opportunities are secured for local communities through intelligent procurement and the use of framework agreements such as those used for the London Olympics and HS2 should be used to make sure that the best local training and development opportunities, including apprenticeships, are established across supply chains.
The social partnership approach taken to the NRP at a national level should be reflected in the industrial strategy so that unions are engaged and able to inform the work of the Skills Advisory Panels and the National Retraining Partnership at the local and regional level.
Both the WMCA and local authorities should sign the TUC Apprenticeship Charter and work with LEPs to engage employers to ensuring every apprenticeship has purpose, is paid fairly, with high-quality learning and training elements and access to trade unions.
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