The UK economy is beginning to see real growth. Whilst long-standing challenges undoubtedly remain, ambitions for a sustained economic recovery are closer to being realised than they have been for a long time.
At the heart of this the development of skills within the current and future labour market will play a crucial role in improving employment prospects, pay and wellbeing, as well as overall business competitiveness and the economy at large.
These are the findings of a recent report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), which was commissioned to look at significant issues facing skills and employment in the UK before setting out key recommendations on how to resolve them.
The UKCES' Growth Through People study finds that, for businesses to prosper, employers should be stepping up to the mark and leading the way on skills, with the Government acting as an enabler; that improving workplace productivity needs to be recognised as a key means of increasing pay and prosperity; and that success should be measured by a wider set of outcomes than simply educational attainment.
The report also recommends that education and employers need to be better connected to prepare people for work, and that 'earning and learning' should be the gold standard in vocational education.
Having launched VQ Day 2015 here in Wales earlier this month, the latter is particularly relevant. High quality apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications should be a normal career pathway for many more young people, and a routine means through which businesses recruit and develop their talent pipeline.
At a grass-roots level, annual celebrations such as VQ Day have probably never been so important. As educationalists, employers, parents and industry leaders we have a responsibility to prepare our young people with the right skills not only to get their first job but also to ensure they have the skills in place to progress once in work.
Vocational qualifications are an ideal way to achieve this, and should be promoted at every opportunity. However, closer work between employers, education and training providers is also needed to create the ideal environment for greater co-investment in skills, as prioritised by the Welsh Government.
In terms of higher level technical education, it is envisaged that increased co-investment by employers could help shape the behaviour of colleges, for example, turning them into more commercial bodies working closely with employers to meet more of our training industry needs. This brings with it obvious benefits to the employer and the economy as a whole, but also, importantly, to the learner too.