Talking skills at the Liberal Democrat conference: Maximising workforce potential together

By Sara Caplan

May 2015 may feel like an awful long time away. As party conference season kicks off this week with the Liberal Democrats’ in Glasgow, that date is brought sharply into focus as conference goers look ahead to the next general election – and start to debate the priorities for the parties’ manifestos.

At our roundtable, as part of the conference fringe we asked for more from our attendees – who were mainly drawn from business, training provision and local government. This was a debate about the long term productivity of the workforce – and what’s needed to ensure that the right skills are in place to drive the recovery - for years and decades to come.

The fringe session, hosted by CentreForum, explored a wide range of issues drawing upon the findings of our new book - Stepping stones to growth – specifically the final chapter on delivering good jobs – and the role of business in our skills system.

The attendees recognised that maximising the potential of our workforce requires attention from a broad coalition with a stake in this agenda. For employers, this means investing in their present and future workforce for the long term –including taking on apprentices and being pragmatic about making this happen – with small and medium sized enterprises pooling their HR functions and expertise, for example. It also means employers casting the net wide, recognising that people learn differently and training programmes should reflect this and be tailored accordingly.

It’s not just down to employers to think long –term. There was much consensus on the importance of educators providing the foundation in ‘soft’ skills like time keeping and core skills like ‘working maths’ - which employers in the audience identified as important.

Attendees also wanted a clear role for government in monitoring and evaluating the growing range of business-led training provision so the outcomes expected by employers and the employed alike are met - while debunking some of the myths around apprenticeships as a poor relation to university degrees.

In our rapidly changing labour market, individuals themselves also have an important part to play - they need to make the most of the growing amount of information available to make the right choices. Where they are self-employed or freelance they may find themselves in the driving seat of their future development.

Attendees recognised that the skills agenda is very much at the heart of the long term health of UK plc. If we are to refuel our labour market then we need to listen to employers and enable them to drive the skills agenda to ensure we get the workforce with the skills we really need – and create broader job opportunities for the future – and for all.

For more on our party conference events and our Stepping stones to growth campaign visit

Sara Caplan:
Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)191 269 4290