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Introducing Britain’s skills crisis

3 February 2011

9:23 AM

3 February 2011

9:23 AM

Did you know: Britain trails well behind other countries such as the US, Germany and
Poland when it comes to educating its workforce? Did you know: the number of young people not in employment, education or training has risen by around 40 per cent over the last decade? Did you know
… oh, you get the idea. All the statistics, and more, are in the booklet on Britain’s Skills Crisis that is included in this week’s Spectator. For CoffeeHousers who don’t buy the magazine
(although you should, etc – purchasing options here), you can read the supplement for free via this
snazzy, page-turning whatsit. We’ll also put one or two of its articles up on
Coffee House in due course.        

The proposition behind the supplement is straightforward enough: that Britain has a shortage of well-trained workers. From there, we investigate how it might be fixed. There’s an article by David
Willetts on the government’s thinking in this area. The pop impressario – and train enthusiast – Pete Waterman rails against the rise of meaningless qualifications. Reihan Salam says we
ought to heed the ideas of Matthew B. Crawford, and become a
nation of tinkerers again. Toby Young argues that young people should learn Latin if they want to get ahead in a ferocious labour market. And there are artices by Ross Clark, Fraser and yours
truly.   


To save this post from being an extended plug, however, I thought I’d reprint part of a Q&A we did with Mark Lovell. Mark is in charge of A4e, one of the private welfare companies that operates
alongside the government to help unemployed people back into work. Here’s what he had to say when we asked whether, from his frontline vantage point, there are still jobs in the economy:

"That’s the most common question we get asked by people who participate in our services. Or the most common statement they make to us is: ‘there are no jobs round here’.
They’re wrong. We have never been in an economy where there aren’t suitable jobs for the people who walk through our doors.

The Office for National Statistics says that there are around 500,000 vacancies in the economy today. That’s basically the number of jobs that are being advertised in Job Centres. I
view that as about a third of the actual total vacancies. So, a third are in the Job Centres, a third are in either newspapers or online adverts, and the final third will be word-of-mouth.

During a recession you tend to find that employers often do more by word-of-mouth recruitment. The role of brokers who put people in touch with these opportunities is even more important
during the recessionary cycle."

Worth remembering, and not least because the most common complaint against the IDS reforms is that there aren’t enough jobs to sustain them. The question that  policy makers should
dwell on, as recovery beckons, is not so much, "where are the jobs going to come from?" But, "where are the people going to come from to fill the jobs?" And that’s why fixing
Britain’s skills crisis is imperative for the coalition.


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