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The Education Secretary has claimed businesses are ‘driving with the handbrake on’ without the right skills.

Gillian Keegan, who was speaking last week at the Government’s Business Connect Skills for Growth conference, said: “I know from my years in business that organisations drive innovation and create opportunities, but without skilled workers, it often feels like you’re driving with the handbrake on.

“The Government is investing in building future skills for growth and calling on businesses to work with us, so that together we can build the workforce of tomorrow.”

Ms Keegan was a guest speaker at the event, alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Skills Minister Robert Halfon, Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake as well as the Government’s independent skills policy adviser, Sir Michael Barber.

Among the major employers attending to discuss the future of skills were Google and Amazon, as well as BP, BAE Systems, Virgin Atlantic, Thames Water, Greene King and Travis Perkins.

In May 2023, there were 1,051,000 job vacancies in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. In 2019, 24 per cent of vacancies were the result of skills shortages.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “While unemployment is at near record lows, we still have some one million job vacancies in the UK. Getting businesses the skilled workers they need will not only grow the economy, but help cut inflation too.”

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “Successful companies need skilled workforces and as the Business and Trade Secretary I want to listen to the needs of business to ensure that the skills system delivers for them, creates even more highly skilled jobs and grows the economy.”

In addition to the conference, the Government is urging employers to hire more apprentices, especially younger workers, and to invest more in training and upskilling their workforce.

It is also highlighting the wide range of government-backed courses and support which are available, including Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs, as well as £2.7 billion of additional funding to support businesses to take on more apprentices and the ongoing rollout of T Levels.

The event was delivered in partnership with World Skills UK, which organises the participation of skilled UK professionals in the world’s largest competitive skills showcase. Previous winners of World Skills events were present to discuss their experiences.

Ian Elliott, Chief People Officer at PwC, said: “The UK needs an upskilling revolution. Our country’s long-term economic and social prosperity depends on the next generation of workers being equipped for an AI-powered world.

“Government cannot solve the skills challenge alone. Businesses cannot expect education providers to anticipate evolving business needs.

“We have a responsibility to use our positions as progressive employers to collaborate across the public and private sectors to advance and innovate education pathways to meet need and aspiration.”

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