Growth Through People, a report recently published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is a timely and insightful blueprint that sets out how necessary improvements in our skills system can be achieved.
The report, supported by the CBI, the TUC and a range of other bodies, also serves as a pertinent reminder that we must look to enhance and develop the provision of skills training in this country as a top priority if we are to boost productivity, prepare for the jobs of tomorrow and prosper in a global economy.
The workplace is changing beyond recognition and at a faster rate than ever before. Whilst this constant state of flux is creating fantastic opportunities for growth and rapid progress, we must focus our efforts to answer this challenge and invest in training and skills to ensure that we develop the skilled workforce we need to supercharge our economy.
Furthermore, a thriving further education and skills sector also represents the means to close the skills gap and tackle youth unemployment, two of the most pressing policy challenges of our time.
Earlier this year, a survey carried out for the Prince's Trust found that three quarters of British businesses have concerns over the suitability of our school and college leavers for the workplace. This mismatch between young people's skills and the needs of employers is putting the continued growth of our economy at risk, and immediate action is needed to bridge the gap.
As such, I warmly welcome the priorities for action that the Growth Through People report sets out, particularly in terms of the emphasis placed on entrepreneurial and commercially focused education.
'Earning and learning' routes should become the norm, as they provide the invaluable opportunity for young people to develop the skills that are actually required in the real world of work.
Any programme or reform to our education sector that provides students with hands-on experience of working within an enterprise will boost their employment prospects and give students the best chance of success in a dynamic jobs market.
At the Gazelle Colleges Group we are experimenting with new learning models that prioritise commercial learning and give students the complete experience of working within an enterprise, from handling accounts to dealing with suppliers and customers.
Ultimately, we believe that college-owned enterprises or 'Learning Companies', often run in partnership with local businesses, give students the opportunity to learn hands-on within a business environment that is safe and regulated.
The call for employers to be better connected with the education system is crucial, and I fully believe that such initiatives serve to bridge the gap between education and work.
An expansion of commercial learning initiatives will fully integrate substantive and valuable experience of a real workplace into the heart of our education system, rather than merely a token week of work experience.
What's more, as well as close connections between employers and the education system, I also welcome the call for success to be measured by 'real results' rather than merely qualifications.
Schemes such as the Enterprise Passport, one of the flagship recommendations of Lord Young's Enterprise for All report which was published earlier this year, shows the way forward in this regard. The Enterprise Passport and other similar tools will enable employers to take a much more comprehensive and rounded view of individuals, and accelerate the recognition of enterprise within the education system by enabling work experience, vocational courses and entrepreneurial activities to assume a position reflecting their true importance within our education system.
In looking beyond merely educational attainment, the report is also in tune with the concept of T-shaped learning, which is a key element in what Gazelle colleges deliver to learners. Education is not just about the acquisition of skills or qualifications in a single field (the vertical bar of the T) but the ability to collaborate across disciplines and work in a team (the horizontal bar of T). We need to deliver 'T' shaped people who are adaptable, creative and good team players, creating a learning system that more closely reflects the requirements of the workplace.
In order to create a further education and skills sector that is fully attuned to the requirements of our modern economy and will provide the foundation of our long-term prosperity and growth, greater collaboration between education and the private sector is required.
However, this must be reinforced by a greater focus on commercial approaches to learning throughout our education system, whether this takes the form of 'earning and learning' or a college-run initiative that provides a hands-on experience of entrepreneurship at the earliest possible stage.