The UK is failing on skills; it doesn’t have to, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 23th February 2022

It’s hard to overstate just how important jobs skills are to the UK’s future. Skills have the ability to drastically improve individuals’ life chances, they will be central to securing Crawley’s economic recovery after the pandemic, and if the UK is going to hit Net Zero by 2050, we will need drastic change in the country’s skills base.

Even before the pandemic it was clear skills in Crawley would need to change, with automation set to claim an increasing number of existing jobs. That’s why upon regaining control of Crawley Borough Council, Labour implemented the town’s first ever Jobs and Skills Plan.

Yet, despite a number of early wins, it’s only with COVID-19 that we have been able to secure the wider buy-in necessary for major developments such as the Innovation Centre and Institute of Technology. Things are moving quickly now, but one wonders how much better off residents would have been had others been willing to support our efforts to diversify Crawley’s employment before things turned critical.

Unfortunately, this too-little-too-late approach appears to be a pattern the Government is determined to repeat on skills. Rather than finding new ways to support young people into the careers of the future, this week the Conservatives voted down Labour proposals which would have ensured every young person had access to work experience and professional careers advice

Now is not the time for inactivity. Across Crawley alone the number of people starting an apprenticeship has fallen by 26% in the last decade of Conservative Government. Nationally, the picture is stark – a drop of almost two hundred thousand in the number of people starting an apprenticeship over that same period. In contrast, the Welsh Labour Government has delivered over 100,000 high quality apprenticeships since 2016 alone, using various innovative approaches.

For the country to be capable of achieving anything, we need the right skills in the right numbers. It will be the most important factor in determining the UK’s success. We have to start planning now to a skills base capable of meeting the challenges of tomorrow. All our futures are at stake.

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