I recently wrote to the Government with an idea that had been rattling around in my head for quite while.
The idea is for a system that solves three big issues facing the UK today: Student debt, the rise of graduate unemployment and a serious lack of home grown specialists that threatens to have a negative impact on the UK’s prosperity.
So, what is this idea and how can it solve these issues?
Firstly, it important to stress that these issues are real.
Having dealt with many graduates over the years, I have come to realise that students in the UK often study for degrees that are – primarily – of interest to them rather than those that will challenge them and prepare them for the road ahead. This is all well and good, but often these subjects do not allow them to compete with the most available, well paid and sought after positions they desire in the future.
This sees young people starting out in life with low morale, under pressure and sometimes with little chance of paying off their student debts.
Graduate unemployment stays uncomfortably high because of this and the desirable degree subjects lead to certain sectors becoming saturated with candidates, whilst others are starved of suitable and skilled applicants.
Furthermore, it’s widely accepted by analysts, public bodies and industry leaders alike that there are significant skills gaps across many critical sectors: IT, engineering, medicine, mathematics, sciences, and languages to name a few.
This sees our private and public sectors striving to find the home-grown professionals they need, to allow them to progress and compete in an age of aggressive digital transformation and change.
The need to close the chasm between the available talent pool and the skills that are in demand became the catalyst for my idea.
“So; what is it?” I hear you say… ‘What is the big idea?’
Well, in my letter that I sent in to a generic Downing Street email address, I proposed an initiative whereby educators and employers come together to implement a system that would work for all.
Here’s what I set out:
Create a ‘commission of employers’ that identifies the skills the UK economy will need over a rolling period of at least five years, ideally ten. This commission will be made up of a panel of experts, from both the UK public and private sector. The panel will evaluate input from a large section of employers and recognise industry trends. They would then look at skills that are required, evaluate the likelihood of the UK education system producing the required skilled individuals to fill critical rolls – and recommend the type of expertise that is likely to be in short supply.
Invite all employers to join a scheme where they can influence and advise the commission on the type of skills they themselves will need for future success. They will be invited to contribute to a fund for further education (including both university, apprentice and vocational education).
The commission will manage the fund, which will become a bursary for students who wish to study the skills specified by UK employers. The scheme will forecast trends at least five years in advance and so pupils will be helped to identify opportune career paths even before taking GCSEs. Bursaries will then become available at either full cost, or part cost, depending upon how critical the skills in their chosen field are deemed to be.
Universities will work closely with the commission to create courses that are in line with the national skills shortage, adjusting the courses that they offer to fall more in line with employer demand. Courses that are not funded by the bursary will still be there, students will be free to choose them and pay fees as they do today.
Students who take the bursary are duty bound to accept employment from one of the participating employers, which has effectively acted as a sponsor for the individuals education. Employers that have contributed to the bursary will have the ‘pick of crop’ yet will be limited to the amount of graduates they can recruit, depending upon their payments.
Graduates will be expected to work with their employer for a period of two to three years, after which the bursary is cleared. If the graduate chooses not to work for an employer in the scheme, the bursary flips to a student loan arrangement. Similar schemes could be implemented for vocational skills – an area that is failing to attract students and funding, yet the expertise for which the UK is seriously lacking.
It seems my email and my idea had some impact as I was contacted by Downing Street to see if I would be prepared to present my ideas to the prime minister directly.
Of course I said ‘yes’.
During our meeting, Mrs May sounded extremely encouraging.
My idea for a system for overcoming the skills shortage is now being looked at by the Government including an education commission, the department for education and the prime minister herself.
I really believe the system I’ve put forward to our prime minister could be the answer to addressing the skills’ deficit in the UK.
Please get in touch with me and let me know if you agree: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Mike Cheeseman is the founder and managing director of Digital Skills – a specialist digital talent and resources provider based in the Thames Valley. He has a degree in government and politics and an extensive background in sourcing and recruiting specialists for digital and business transformation.