Last week I went to Slovenia, virtually of course, to represent the UK at the international OECD Skills Summit attended by over 30 nations. It was a timely opportunity to learn more about the programmes in a number of countries to re-skill and up-skill workforces as the economic disruption of Covid-19 begins to impact people’s jobs around the world. It is striking to consider that during my first six weeks as a Minister, before coronavirus, almost every meeting I had with businesses of all sizes, and in all sectors, related to serious skills gaps within their industry. From the summit I attended, it was clear that this situation is not unique to the UK.
Covid-19 has amplified this issue, especially in particular sectors such as health and social care, and within the digital space; with more of us moving online. With it, however, is also an opportunity to work with providers of technical education and industry to develop the skills that the country really needs. If we get this right it will also provide high quality employment opportunities in growth sectors. I am pleased to report that already we’re doing our bit locally. Chichester College has this year launched T-Levels; a new qualification that is equivalent to 3 A-levels and has been designed with leading employers to provide the skills businesses need and includes a minimum nine week work placement so students can put into practice what they learn in the classroom.
Technical education is a key part of our economic recovery so it was wonderful to open Bourne Community College’s new STEM centre, equipped with incredible technology to support and inspire their pupils into careers in engineering and computer science. They have the latest equipment including a 3D printer, which does what it says on the tin, printing in 3 dimensions – so students experience the process of coming up with a concept, designing it, prototyping it then physically holding the finished product all using computer programmes.
Along with the STEM lab we officially opened two new food technology labs, two maths classrooms and their new Southgate pitch; named after the late John Southgate their long-serving Chair of Governors and his lovely daughter, Annie, was able to join us to mark the occasion.
We are all working for longer than ever so more of us will have several careers. We are working to remove barriers and offer more opportunities, through skills development to anyone, at any age. Many of us will have several careers, being an MP is my second - a far cry from international business… I’m not alone, on a visit to St Richard’s Hospital not too long ago I met a nurse apprentice in her 40s, who was previously a domiciliary and she’s loving her new job. It’s never too late to build your dream career.