17/12/2014 06:52 GMT | Updated 16/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Skills Development in 2014: What Next for 2015?

It is natural for businesses to take stock of not only each financial year, but at the end of each calendar year too. As 2014 comes to a close and 2015 pushes its way to the fore, I have no doubt that industry leaders across the country will be taking time out to consider the ebb and flow of their order book in some form or another this Christmas.

As business operators it is understandable that at a time of year when, as human beings we tend to reflect on life as a whole, this will inevitably spill over into the business community too. So what of the world of skills and employment as a whole - how far have we come in 2014 and what could we do with more of in 2015?

Here in Wales 2014 has brought with it some very positive developments on the training and skills front. Back in March Wales' Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology announced a record rise in the number of people starting apprenticeships to 28,000 in one year, with the overall figure for work-based learning provision across Wales also increasing dramatically within the year 2012/13.

By early summer it was revealed that the UK GDP as a whole had expanded in the first quarter of 2014 by 0.8% following a period of growth in the last three months of 2013, leading many businesses to look towards further growth and expansion as a result.

Evidence of growth in Wales specifically was then supported by research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) which found 3,000 additional vacancies were found to be available in 2013 compared to two years previously, according to the UKCES Employer Skills Survey released in June.

In the autumn, the percentage of Welsh students achieving the highest A-level grades was also found to have risen for the first time in five years, while Oxford University made the highest number of offers to Welsh applicants than in the previous four years.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics around the same time also showed continued promise regarding further recovery within the UK after unemployment levels were found to have dropped to their lowest since 2008.

So for Wales, both from the perspective of the employer and employee, 2014 has in many ways been a very positive year indeed. Not only have the opportunities available to our young people apparently been on the rise but so too, it would seem, has the calibre of candidate coming forward to fill them.

Certainly the joint efforts of business leaders, Welsh Government and other stakeholders to match industry's skills needs with the needs of our young people, it would appear, have been sustained and effective.

Last month employers in Wales were found to be amongst the most pro-active in the UK when it comes to supporting the professional development of their hard-working employees. Statistics released by the UKCES found that Wales was most likely out of all the four home nations to have employers who pro-actively contacted an external training provider to discuss providing qualifications, training courses and other opportunities on behalf of their staff.

Additionally, the same UKCES' Employer Perspectives Survey also found that Welsh employers were most likely to have discussed the progress of staff receiving training with an external training provider on a regular basis.

But whilst we celebrate the successes of this year, we must also look to the future. The Welsh Government's Policy Statement on Skills, launched on 30 January 2014, set out a vision for employment and skills policy in Wales over the next 10 year.

The key aim of the supporting Skills Implementation Plan is to support Wales' evolution into a highly-skilled nation, and to create the conditions which will allow businesses in Wales to grow and flourish. It sets out the actions needed by all stakeholders to develop a resilient and responsive post-19 skills system which is sustainable against the backdrop of ever scarcer public resources.

As such, increasing investment in skills, particularly from employers, will be critical if the good news outlined above is to continue in 2015 and beyond.