Northern England suffers from persistent gaps in both productivity and skill levels. The UK Government’s Levelling Up White Paper identifies skills as a crucial driver of regional economic disparities and highlights plans to increase skills training, raise educational standards, and put employers at the heart of the Further Education and training system. But how likely is it that these bold aims will be achieved?

Bringing together perspectives from northern employers, regional policy-makers, employer representative bodies and Further Education providers, this report calls for a fundamental rethink of skills policy and recommends ways to boost employer investment in skills and improve the way skills are used in the workplace.

Key recommendations

  • We need a long-term and stable approach to skills policy and policy to support local economic growth so that institutions and providers can engage meaningfully with employers and develop longer-term relationships and approaches.
  • Strengthened partnerships, better local referral networks, and coordination between institutions, particularly between business support and skills providers, is needed to tackle local challenges in a joined-up way.
  • Flexible long-term funding, rather than centralised pots of competitive funding, is needed to address local challenges.
  • Better business support is needed to help organisations – especially small firms – develop leadership and people management capability, understand the value of skills investment and engage meaningfully with skills training providers.

The CIPD has run a number of free HR consultancy support pilots which have been successful in helping small businesses understand and address skills gaps. The evaluation of these pilots suggests that bespoke and flexible business consultancy support provided led to improvements in workplace relations, labour productivity and financial outcomes, and could help prompt further investment in business improvement among participating firms.

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Skills policy in the North: Recommendations for 'levelling up'

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