• Chris Hearld, Author |
3 min read

As our latest Report on Jobs shows, the labour market is reheating as the economy grows. Attracting and retaining talent with the skills they need will be a growing challenge for businesses.

In this context KPMG Private Enterprise spoke with leaders from business, education, training and civic organisations in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and London to talk skills. We’ve distilled their views and ours to create the first of our Voices of Place reports: The Skills City.

Our report recommends that businesses recruit with a focus on meta-skills - broad capabilities that aid the development of other skills - such as critical thinking, empathy and innovation. They should also deploy a topping up approach to training, investing in skills in a focused way.


Meta-skills help people adapt to change. This is increasingly vital for businesses. But these skills are largely unrecognised formally in recruitment processes.

Fast changing times

The world of work is changing at an increasing pace. New circumstances and behaviours during the pandemic have highlighted how quickly skills needs can, in turn, change. Abilities with tech, for example have become even more important, from getting to grips with new technology all the way through to shifting a business onto a digital platform.

In a fast-changing environment, businesses need an agile workforce. This requires people with meta-skills, enabling them to adapt to new roles and industries.

Hybrid working

Following lockdowns and in an increasingly hybrid working environment, people skills, collaboration and training will need to be refreshed. Opportunities to learn to on the job will remain reduced compared to pre COVID-19. Team members with meta-skills like the ability to learn from, and to develop, others, will be valuable.

These transferable skills lie behind strong performance.  But they’re rarely included in job adverts or on CVs, alongside competencies. So, it is often unclear from people’s qualifications what meta and soft skills they bring.

We predict these skills will rise in value and start to be referenced in recruitment processes. Seeking them and stating they will be valued will help to put businesses in the driving seat in the race for talent. For example, sectors like retail and hospitality – where dealing with the public is part of the job – are ideally placed to not only benefit from people skills but to sell themselves as a route to gaining them.

Collaboration and stackable skills

We found strong support from employers, local government agencies and education providers for further collaboration to meet future skills needs, building on progress to date.

In particular, there is more to do around identifying the roles of education, training providers and employers in reskilling and upskilling.

Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, summarised it well, saying:

“We can’t wait for government to bring about collaboration. Business leaders need to walk the walk, by engaging with colleges and training providers.”

Business leaders should communicate their training needs as remote learning opens up economies of scale and scope.  Education institutions and training providers have a wider catchment area if people don’t have to travel so often; that means they can offer more specialised training and still keep the virtual classroom full. 

Stackable skills and training are part of the answer. If businesses better understand their current capabilities and training providers offer more specific bite-sized courses, businesses will find securing the skills they do need via education and training providers more affordable and valuable.

As Mark Essex, our Director of Skills, says: “When businesses recognise what they’ve already got in their skills base and make granular decisions about topping up the skills needed, they will avoid sheep dipping everyone from a skills point of view and make smarter training investments.”

As well as developing the agility of their workforce, this will support a business’ credentials as an employer of choice in a seller’s market.