Skills key to future economic success, says Cable

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Getting the skills system right will be crucial to the Government’s industrial strategy in the future, according to business secretary Vince Cable.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference today, Cable told delegates that “to have the skills we need in 2020 or 2030, we need to start acting now”. He identified two key areas where action was most needed: post-18 vocational education, and research and development.

Cable called for “real ambition for the further education sector”, and for UK businesses to build on their excellence in science and “turning great ideas into great products”. He placed particular focus on the engineering sector, where companies struggle to find appropriately skilled candidates for roles. He said action must be taken “to increase the numbers passing through every stage of the pipeline”, with the aim of creating a “thriving ecosystem which attracts the most talented people to careers in engineering and science”.

However, Cable added that employers would need to help to foot the bill to nurture this ecosystem. “If an adequate pipeline of British engineers is to be created, it cannot be down to government and future engineering graduates – through their fees – to do all the financial heavy lifting,” he said. He is calling for employers to invest in sandwich schemes, paid internships and sponsor individuals.

Commenting on Cable’s keynote speech, Katja Hall, the CBI’s chief policy director, said: “Business will be pleased with the focus Vince Cable brought to meeting our economy’s skills needs. He acknowledged the urgent need to get more young people studying science and maths, and that is of vital importance to businesses. More than 40% of firms in sectors like engineering are already struggling to recruit skilled people and this situation will only get worse if we don’t take swift action.”

This afternoon, a panel debate will look into what can be done with the schools system to ensure coming generations are prepared for working life. The CBI will launch its report First Steps: A New Approach to our Schools, which calls for more emphasis on the skills people need for work rather than exams and league tables.

CBI director-general John Cridland said: “Qualifications are important, but we also need people who have self-discipline and serve customers well. As well as academic rigour, we need schools to produce rounded and grounded young people who have the skills and behaviours that businesses want.”

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