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20th October 2020

Business and Education: it’s time to join forces

Never before has it been so important for businesses and educational providers to come together to boost employment prospects and bridge the skills gap, as we face the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to latest research by the Association of Colleges (AoC), the majority (68%) of SMEs say that if their business is going to “survive and thrive” then skills must be a top priority for the Government.

Despite recent high-profile skills speeches and announcements, almost 40 per cent of SME decision-makers say that it is more difficult now than it was five years ago to find employees with the right skills, and 53 per cent still don’t think that enough is being done to help them skill and reskill their workforce as we get closer to the end of the Brexit transition period.

The national survey of SME leaders also shows that the impact of Brexit is no longer the biggest worry for businesses, with more than half (53%) saying that COVID-19 is now their key concern. More than two in five (44%) say that the skills gap in their sector is likely to increase because of threats such as COVID-19, and 54 per cent believe that they are going to need to train their workforce to adapt to the opportunities and threats thrown up by the virus.

The study, released to mark Colleges Week, shows that 71 per cent believe colleges are important to business for training and retraining staff. As a business, 39% say they would look to train, retrain or upskill their employees through colleges, compared to 21% who would turn to a university or 13% online courses. A further 44% believe colleges are best placed to skill their future workforce, compared to universities (22%) and schools (21%).



Economic recovery must be skills-led, and it’s clear that our nation’s colleges are well placed to lead the way in helping to bridge the gap between education and employment.

 Last month, to help combat recent unemployment figures, the Government launched the Kickstart Scheme, aimed at helping people who have lost their jobs, retrain and upskill to re-enter the workforce. With Kickstart, the Government will pay new employees’ wages for up to six months, as well as a £1,500 incentive payment for each Kickstart employee taken on.

These jobs will give young people – who are more likely to have been furloughed, with many working in sectors disproportionately hit by the pandemic – the opportunity to build their skills in the workplace and to gain experience to improve their chances of finding long-term work.

Early support from businesses for Kickstart has been good. Thousands have signed up directly, or through gateway organisations, to offer subsidised jobs. There is much to celebrate about the scheme, and rapid implementation is needed to avoid the scarring effect of long-term youth unemployment.

“Celebrating our colleges has never been more important. The City of Liverpool College is at the heart of Liverpool’s economic commitment to building back better, inspiring young people and supporting businesses.”

“Now more than ever, we need to celebrate the work that FE colleges do to drive lasting positive change for young people and adults across the City Region.”

– Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

At The City of Liverpool College, we are calling on businesses to help us support the North West’s unemployed and the economy, via the Kickstart scheme.

We are working with employers to develop a pre-employment training plan to ensure employees joining them on the Kickstart scheme are equipped with the skills required by the business. Following completion of the Kickstart programme, employees will be perfectly placed to progress onto an Apprenticeship or full-time employment.

Kickstart has the potential to launch the careers of hundreds of thousands of young people. While the future youth labour market will undoubtedly be very different to what we are used to, if Kickstart can give young people the opportunities and skills to adapt and thrive, business and the economy will benefit from the unique talent, energy and creativity that young people bring.

It is only through training and retraining that we will be able to make sure that people have the skills they need to keep their jobs and to apply for new ones, and that businesses have the employees they need to recover and thrive in this ever-changing world.


Elaine Bowker

Principal and Chief Executive at The City of Liverpool College

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