Somerset County Gazette column, February 2024.

by Emma Rawlings, Chief Executive, Somerset Chamber of Commerce.

THE workplace is changing and so are the skills needed to navigate it. Businesses need an industrial strategy from Government that is fit for purpose – and the Government must work in partnership with businesses to both deliver and create opportunities for the future.

Attracting and retaining people with the right skills is crucial for business. But far too many firms are currently struggling to do that. The Chamber network is repeatedly being told how this is damaging firms' ability to meet order books, take on new work and operate profitably. It is also impacting on the workload and morale of staff.

There needs to be better skills planning at a national, local, employer and individual level, including longer term investment in Local Skills Improvement Plans, something Somerset Chamber is delivering for employers in Somerset.

The Chamber network is calling for more investment in high quality impartial careers education and, through its new People and Work action plan, acknowledges the crucial role apprenticeships play in tackling skills shortages and creating opportunities.

If we get education and skills right – people and business flourish. It enables us all to play our part in a thriving economy.

The UK is one of the largest and most innovative economies in the world. But that will only continue if education and skills remain a top priority for policymakers.

We face huge challenges in the workforce due to the long-term, embedded skills gap which is holding back the economy. We need to focus on recruitment, retaining and retraining.

Companies are crying out for more people to join the workforce with the right skills. We need to urgently break down the barriers that prevent people from achieving their full potential in the workplace.

But any long-term industrial strategy from Government needs to be underpinned by changes to local skills provision, a more flexible apprenticeship levy, better careers education and an immigration system that works for business.