The Talent Retention Solution has been mentioned a number of times in various debates in the House of Lords this month. On the 5th December in answer to an Aerospace Industry Question asked by Lord Soley to ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the aerospace industry regarding problems facing that industry. Lord Jenkin of Roding responded as follows, 'My Lords, we are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. I am going to follow him on skills in a moment but, with regard to what the Ministers are saying, I can only imagine that he has not read the report of the all-party manufacturing group held last month, at which my noble friend Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint answered a great many of the points that he has made about small businesses and exports. The central point that he made was that of course the Government and UKTI have to do more, but there needs to be a change of attitude on the part of small companies.
I need no persuasion about the importance of manufacturing industry. Before I went into the House of Commons I spent 13 years in the chemical industry, and I have always felt that it is a great pity that there are not more Members of another place who have done the same sort of thing. I turn to skills. My honourable friend John Hayes, the Minister for Skills and Training, is doing a splendid job in grappling with the situation that he inherited. In particular, he has recognised, as I am not sure our predecessors did, that if you are going to have more apprenticeships and skills councils, they must be employer-led. That is what is now happening. Those skills councils that have been employer-led have been very successful. I shall mention only two of them: Cogent, which deals with the skills and training for many of the STEM industries, and the National Skills Academy for Nuclear-I declare an interest as its honorary president. They are now wholly independent of public finance because they are now being financed by industry. That should be applauded. Yet one hears of so many problems regarding the lack of skills. Another of my interests that I should declare is that I am honorary president of the Energy Industries Council. That is the trade association that represents more than 650 companies in the energy supply chains, including a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises. It holds trade shows around the world. Last month my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford was pleased to visit a two-day trade fair that the EIC was running at Olympia, and only last week he did the same at a trade fair in Dubai. On both occasions he was hugely impressed by the quality and range of the manufactures that are available from the companies that were exhibiting on the stands, but on both occasions my noble friend heard the same complaint: that they cannot get the skills and the skilled people necessary to deliver the export orders that they are now getting from around the world. I heard the same point at another meeting. A speaker on behalf of Centrica made exactly the same point: it cannot get the skilled labour. Yet, as we know and grieve, more than 1 million young people aged 18 to 26 are described as NEETs-not in education, employment or training. What are the barriers? Why can this not happen? Is it attitudes? Yes, that is certainly one of those barriers. Is it reluctance on the part of employers? Possibly. However, the biggest barrier-I heard this the other day from the vice-chancellor of the Open University, who was extremely persuasive-is a lack of proper information and careers advice to young people. Many of them do not know about the opportunities that are open to them to gain skills and so begin to qualify for jobs for life. What is my noble friend's department doing to strengthen the provision of information to young people? A major new project is emerging in Yorkshire-what will be the world's biggest potash mine. It involves an investment of £3 billion and 1,000 new jobs, all of which will need to be skilled. What is the company doing? It is going into the schools and the further education colleges in order to persuade the students there of the importance of gaining skills so that, when the company starts to recruit people, they will be able to operate the equipment. Last night I heard a very interesting comment on this from the former chief executive of the Association for Science Education, who said:
"That would not have happened 10 years ago".
There has been a significant change in attitude, but many more companies need to do that. I end by offering a bouquet to my noble friend. The department's Talent Retention Scheme, which was launched by my honourable friend Mark Prisk, is a scheme whereby skilled people who are losing their jobs can be picked up by other firms that are looking for people. Participation in the scheme is beginning to grow but I wish that more companies would subscribe to it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that.
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