• Anna Purchas, Author |
4 min read

I chair regular London Leaders’ Circles to talk about the big issues facing employers. I recently invited the Circle to take part in a workshop looking specifically at the skills issues facing London – and they jumped at the chance.

In a vibrant discussion, we covered the skills we’ll need for the future, what we need to change to deliver them, and what success will look like for London. Here are the key points I took away from the session.

London isn’t immune from the digital skills shortage

There’s growing competition for talent in London – especially, for people with digital skills. Sourcing those skills locally is a challenge – at present, only around a third of Londoners have digital skills. Of course, London still has a strong pull factor. But there’s fierce local competition for digital skills and that’s resulting in a culture of counter offers, which can hugely inflate starting salaries.

At the same time employers are struggling to fill key roles, unemployment in London has hit 6.5 percent – the highest across all the UK’s regions. And it could rise further as automation impacts sectors such as retail and hospitality. Unemployment is a particular issue among young people – they account for over half London’s unemployed. There’s a diversity issue here too. Over a third of black male graduates in London are unemployed compared to 8 percent of their white counterparts.

We need to intervene earlier

Addressing the skills issues starts at school. It starts with employers and education providers working more closely together to showcase the jobs of tomorrow to young people and ensure that they’re work ready. A key element of this will be providing mentors to primary and secondary level students, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas of London with the highest levels of unemployment. 

There are already a range of initiatives seeking to intervene earlier in the career pathways of under-represented students. These acknowledge that educators need to engage with students earlier in the pipeline. Were already too late if we wait until university level to try to fix the underlying issues. 

Reskilling is a priority – and it demands a new approach

This isn’t just about making sure that new entrants to the workforce have the right skills though. There’s a huge job to be done to reskill those displaced by COVID and whose roles are changing due to automation. That’s going to mean rethinking our approach to learning. The starting point is identifying the skills our people already have. Then we can devise training schemes that top up their skills, enabling them to transition to new roles without having to go back to square one.

We’re also going to have to think through how we embed a culture of continuous learning in a hybrid world. We learn a huge amount from observing the behaviours of the people we work with. Making the right judgement call, knowing when to challenge, adopting the right tone with clients – they’re all things we learn from watching others in the office.

Organisations embracing hybrid working will need to consider how they can deliver these skills to those working remotely. They’ll also need to think through how they can support younger staff in developing the networks and connections vital to progressing their careers. 

Businesses must lead the way on skills

If we’re going to meet the skills challenges in London, businesses need to take a lead. We can’t wait for central government to come up with all the ideas – it’s businesses that understand what skills are needed. We need to create an environment where local leadership can emerge and drive the skills agenda. That’s going to mean employers stepping up their efforts to collaborate with local education providers, government and communities. We need to work together to build a better understanding of what the local economy needs.

Working more closely with local and industry peers could help here too. And, in London, we’ll need collaboration between boroughs. Without that we face a battle for funding and a continuation of skills discrepancies. We need to work together to level up skills across London.

Voices of Place: The Skills City

Our skills workshop in London fed into a wider programme that also brought together key influencers in Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool. We’ve taken the inputs from all the sessions to provide a fuller picture of the skills challenges facing our regions in our new report, Voices of Place: The Skills City. It’s available to download now.

And, of course, please do contact me if you’d like to discuss the skills issues facing your business.

[1] Central Government’s role in helping London drive recovery, London First, May 2021

[2] Labour market in the regions of the UK: July 2021, Office of National Statistics, July 2021