The theme for this year’s Emsi conference was People, Place and Prosperity, and the day was packed with some great presentations about how education providers, economic developers and employers can work together to better address the skills, growth and regional agendas at a time of big changes and significant challenges.
Emsi UK’s Managing Director, Andy Durman, kicked off the day by talking about how the key to tackling the skills and growth agendas lies in the power of place – getting to grips with local and regional needs, rather than general and national ones, simply because every area is different, each has its own particular strengths, and each has its own specific needs. Any solutions must be found and implemented at the local level, with all stakeholders engaged and working together for the benefit of their local community.
Our first keynote speaker was Jennifer Burden, Director of Programmes at the Gatsby Foundation who looked at the subject of regional skills, and in particular how the new T-Level agenda can provide an answer to the skills problems that employers are currently facing. Despite those problems, however, Jennifer made the important point that T-Levels are not actually about starting from scratch – we already have good technical education. Rather, they are about the re-alignment of the current system of technical education, so that in the future it can better serve the needs of both students and employers.
Moreover, T-Levels also represent a fantastic opportunity for playing an important bridge between college based education and higher education, and they have the potential for local areas to build coherent, clear progression opportunities and training pathways, using a common language which both young people and employers alike can understand.
Our next speaker was Nigel Wilcock, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Development (IED). Nigel was addressing the subject of driving growth, and he began by asking a couple of pointed questions which are rarely asked. Firstly, do we actually want growth? Secondly, what type of growth do we want? These are good questions, because although there is a natural assumption that growth is always welcome, when it actually lands in our back yard, it is often disruptive and we are not necessarily always as enthused with the results of it as we thought we might be.
Nigel went on to look at the great disparity between London and the rest of the country, and spoke about the urgent need to address this imbalance, which he suggested will only get more skewed if action is not taken. But what action? Firstly, economic developers need to get much better at playing to their strengths and secondly, they need to get much better at fostering connections and collaborations with the bigger employers – the Primes – in their area. These are the businesses that are mostly involved in employment and training, but because they usually have a supply chain that includes regional Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), collaboration with them can be considered a win/win for SMEs, Primes, and economic developers.
Our last keynote speaker in the morning session was Ian Pretty, Chief Executive of the Collab Group of Colleges. Ian spelled out some of the huge challenges that are facing local economies – for example, low productivity, acute skills shortages, Brexit and automation – and used this to make the point that partnerships and collaboration are not just a “nice to have”; rather they are absolutely vital for organisations and institutions who are attempting to navigate their way through these things.
He then went on to identify three key areas where partnerships can play a pivotal role as far as colleges are concerned: Apprenticeships, Devolution and Higher Education. Each of these areas undoubtedly brings big challenges, but they also present huge opportunities. With apprenticeships, collaboration with other colleges can be used to facilitate a relationship with employers on a national level, rather than them having to deal with separate colleges in each region. Devolution can provide a framework for greater collaboration, better employer engagement, and the increased sharing of intelligence. And with Higher Education, collaboration can be used to create clearer education pathways, to improve access for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to contribute to the skills and innovation that is so much needed in every regional economy.
Innovations and Solutions from Emsi
After the lunch break, we heard from Emsi’s Director of Consulting and Innovation, Duncan Brown, who talked about a number of exciting developments that are happening at Emsi. These include:
- The launch of our Strengthfinder tool, which allows economic developers to very quickly identify the industries in their region that give them a comparative advantage, and those that present the best opportunities for growth
- New developments to come later in the year to our Job Postings Analytics, including the identification of skills clusters, which will help users to understand emerging skills needs in a region
- An enhanced curriculum planning tool, which we hope to release at the start of the 2018-2019 term, and which will give far greater flexibility for curriculum planners to interact and explore the data
- Changes to our existing Career Coach tool, including a major visual update, integration of Emsi Job Postings Data, and improved usability
Insight for the Future
After breaking for a choice of three workshops, which took a more on-the-ground view of how some of our clients are using our data, the final session was taken by our CEO, Andrew Crapuchettes.
After informing the audience of our recent acquisition by the Strada Education Network (you can find out more about that here), Andrew did a comparison between US and UK labour market participation rates, demonstrating from the data that both countries have something of a problem: population growth is lagging well behind job growth. One of the many things this means is that education institutions, economic developers and employers are going to need to collaborate far more than they are currently doing, in order to make sure they understand where future skills gaps are likely to be and how they might look to fill them.
One of the most fascinating things to come out of Andrew’s presentation was the idea that job titles are no longer a particularly good measures of what an economy and employers actually need. The economy is now very much more complex than it was just a few years back, and often job titles can have very different meanings in different places. What employers are increasingly going to be looking for is what skills a person has, rather than necessarily what job title they have. This will have massive ramifications for education institutions, in terms of what they train people for, how they train them, and the qualifications people end up with, and it will have massive ramifications for employers and how they recruit. Emsi is already getting ahead of the curve on this, so watch this space.
In all, attendees were given a lot of food for thought, a good many ideas, and a number of innovations to take away to their organisations. You can access the slides from the conference on our resource page here.