West Yorkshire college leaders take their case for extra skills investment to Westminster

Leaders from across West Yorkshire have been speaking with MPs at Westminster as part of a national campaign to bring skills to the forefront of the government’s agenda.

Principals from Leeds City College, Leeds College of Building, Keighley, Bradford, Kirklees, Shipley and Calderdale colleges, joined hundreds of leaders from across the country in calling for fairer funding, a right to lifelong learning and support for local skills shortages.

Following 12 years of declining funding for adults and young people, a 2022 report from the Open University and British Chambers of Commerce found that more than 68 per cent of SMEs are currently facing skills shortages, rising to 86 per cent in large organisations.

Bill Jones, Executive Principal at Leeds City College, said: “Education, particularly further education, has been central to the skills agenda for some time, and the sector has been tirelessly campaigning in order to get the necessary support from government to successfully close the skills gap.

“All the industries where skills shortages are being felt most acutely are bridged by Level 4 or 5 skills and qualifications, which are delivered in further education colleges. We will continue campaigning collectively to keep FE front of mind and to remind government of the important role it plays.”

As part of the campaign on 1 March, the principals were involved in a panel discussion, organised by the Future Skills Coalition, that focused on how the lack of funding for colleges is having a direct impact on the sector’s ability to deliver the skilled workers the economy needs.

From left to right: Diana Bird principal of Shipley College, David Malone principal of Calderdale College, Nikki Davis principal of Leeds College of Building, Kevin O’Hare principal of Keighley College, Bill Jones executive principal of Leeds City College, David Hughes chief executive of the Association of Colleges and Chris Webb CEO of Bradford College.

Nikki Davis, Leeds College of Building Principal & CEO, said: “Colleges are vital in addressing significant skills gaps across the economy, including the next generation of skilled construction professionals. Research shows that around a quarter of a million extra construction workers will be needed by 2026 to meet growing demands on the UK sector, and to counter an ageing workforce.

“Without additional investment in further education, we will not be able to fill critical shortages in priority areas – such as net-zero carbon emissions and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) – and deliver the diverse labour market the country needs.”

According to the Learning & Work Institute (L&W), 9 million working-aged adults in England have low basic skills in literacy or numeracy, including 5 million who have low skills in both.

Palvinder Singh, Principal and Chief Executive at Kirklees College, said: “Adult education is essential to local and regional skills needs and for the social mobility of thousands of learners.

“Insufficient funding for our adult provision limits opportunities for adult learners to gain the vital skills to support the future workforce and economy. This provision is essential for economic growth and productivity.”

For more information on the campaign, visit Mind the skills gap – Parliamentary activity | Association of Colleges (aoc.co.uk)

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