Gordon Brown urges employers at CBI conference to tackle skills gap

Gordon Brown dragged the Leitch vision firmly back to the top of the political agenda last week with a speech to business leaders dominated by skills.

The prime minister seemed determined to get employers focused on training as he spoke for 15 minutes longer than his designated half hour at the annual CBI conference.

After touching on energy, transport and taxation policy, Brown talked at length about the need for people to gain better qualifications, while in and out of work.

“Up against the competition of more than two billion people in China and India – which have five million graduates a year – Britain, a small country, cannot compete on low skills, but only on high skills,” he told business leaders.

“Our imperative – and our opportunity – is to compete in high-value-added services and manufacturing and because that requires the best trained workforce in the world, our challenge is to unlock all the talents of all of the people of our country.”

Delegates were surprised to see HR issues given so much airtime. Susan Anderson, head of HR policy at the CBI, said the emphasis on skill levels was welcome as it was a “huge issue” for businesses.

Albert Ellis, chief executive of recruitment firm Harvey Nash, told Personnel Today: “This speech showed Brown’s attention has gone back to skills. The Leitch Review set a monumental task, and the government’s progress in achieving it has been slow because it has been preoccupied with the transition of power from Blair to Brown and competing with Cameron on tax policy.”

Ellis added that Brown’s speech was promising as it “actually had some action points, and it seems that he has a plan”.

Brown’s ‘plan’ included the opening up of the welfare-to-work market to specialist private firms, and placing more duties on people including lone parents to get training.

Brown’s buzzwords

Number of mentions in speech:

  • Work 27
  • Skills 17
  • Welfare 12
  • Tax 8
  • Transport 4
  • Discs 0

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