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PM's plan for “high-wage, high-skill” Britain is falling short - by Katharine Swindells - 16.02.22

Levelling Up - a phrase we hear often enough - is a manifesto commitment which has come to define the Johnson government.

In essence the policy aims to transform the nation’s economic performance by equipping people across the country with the knowledge and skills required to take advantage of the opportunities available in the digital economy of the 21st century.

But to ‘level up’ – to spread those opportunities to those who are currently excluded – remains the real challenge, according to Katharine Swindells in an in-depth report for The New Statesman.

“Most of the jobs growth in the last ten years has been relatively high-skilled and better-paid work,” according to Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

“But the problem is how you then distribute those jobs more fairly, how you support people to get the skills they need and also to understand the opportunities that might be available.”

Progress in this area so far has been disappointing, the majority moving from one low-skill job to another. Covid inevitably has played its part:

“While the media has been full of stories of people using lockdown to study and upskill, the reality is that the financial hardship and ongoing uncertainty of the past two years are hardly ideal circumstances for people to invest in their own human capital.

A survey by the Learning and Work Institute found that adults in higher socio-economic groups were twice as likely to take part in lockdown learning compared with adults in lower socio-economic groups, and adults who stayed in education until 21 were three times as likely compared to adults who left school at the first opportunity.

According to Tony Wilson the answer is two-fold:

Firstly, he calls for a local employment service that is available and accessible to all – not just those claiming unemployment benefits – and that is linked up with local businesses and other support services.

But even if the UK perfects this infrastructure, there still needs to be a culture shift on life-long learning, Wilson says. Whether it’s because they had bad experiences in formal education, or because of childcare and other caring responsibilities, a national jobs and skills strategy needs to go directly to those who are hardest to reach.

“I think there’s a real risk that the levelling-up agenda overly focuses on place rather than the people in the places that actually are levelling up,” Wilson says. “Place, ultimately, is just where people live. It’s the people that matter, and we’ve got to be much better at supporting people.”

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Article for the New Statesman by Katharine Swindells - Boris Johnson’s plan for “high-wage
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