The UK’s talent crisis – how can local learning partnerships overcome our national skills deficit?

We need new thinking about skills and talent, and new approaches to developing and using them. Universities, working with local partners and drawing on global best practices, have a vital role in both.

The competitiveness, productivity and innovation performance of the UK economy has long been, and remains, constrained by “long-standing and intractable” weaknesses in the availability and impacts of highly skilled and talented people. The diagnoses and prescriptions for curing these weaknesses – by focusing on particular skill shortages and shortcomings – have not worked because they have only addressed symptoms of the disease and not the underlying causes. Those causes lie in the misalignments and contradictions that characterise our systems for attracting and developing highly-skilled people, and for deploying their talents to meet the challenges faced by industry, public services and communities.

A new PA report, ‘Communities of Talent: universities in local learning and innovation ecosystems’, explores the ways in which universities, employers and other partners around the world have been rethinking the meanings of skills and talent in today’s world, and are working together to develop innovative responses. These collaborations are creating new patterns of engagement between universities and their civic communities, going far beyond static concepts of universities as ‘anchor institutions’ within their localities.

We are seeing the emergence of different forms of ‘local learning and innovation ecosystems’ – integrated communities working together to solve shared problems through the talents of their people. In their different ways, these ecosystems offer new models for the engagement of universities with their local partners to create opportunities, capabilities and solutions for their shared challenges.

The report reveals how traditional thinking about skills in terms of training for particular jobs and careers is being replaced by more open concepts of transferable talents for problem solving, team working and creativity. It describes some pioneering initiatives from university-led alliances that develop new approaches to developing those talents and considers the conditions and capabilities needed for them to succeed. These considerations take on particular relevance and urgency in the context of current UK government moves to devolve policy responsibilities for growth, productivity and skills to local civic/business partnerships.

Find out more about the author of this article, Mike Boxall

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