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Congratulations on your new appointment. What does it entail?

Thank You! This role is primarily about bringing together City & Guilds’ innovative product and service design teams with our customer service and sales teams, as well as insight from our stakeholders and policy & research activity. It’s a fantastic opportunity to give our UK business clear leadership and vision and a single line of focus out to the customer. It’s a really exciting time for Further Education & Skills, but also demanding and challenging due to all of the changes currently happening. It will be my job to make sure we stay on top of all the changes, translate them for our customers into effective products and services, and maintain our position as a leader in skills education in the UK.

How many employees does City & Guilds have?

Across the Group we have over 1200 employees. About 700 of those are based in London, and we have offices throughout the UK and the world, including New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa and India.

Are there many women in management positions at City & Guilds?

City & Guilds certainly has a high proportion of women holding senior positions across the various businesses, as well as some very experienced women on the board.

Providing opportunities for women is something that is particularly close to my heart, and it’s still an issue we see in some of the industries we work alongside. We were recently one of the Premier Sponsors of The Skills Show – the UK’s largest skills and careers event. At the event, young people compete to be the best of the best in their chosen skills. Watching the competitions, I was shocked at how few women were participating in certain industries, such as IT, construction and engineering. If men still dominate these industries, how can we expect women to attain senior-level roles? And it works both ways. There were very few men taking part in beauty services for example.

When we have skills gaps in so many industries and almost one million unemployed young people, it’s highly concerning that some industries are regarded as ‘male’ or ‘female’. It could potentially deter talented individuals from pursuing their dream job. This needs to change and I am keen to play my part in helping that change to happen.

From an HR perspective, how do you engage your employees in what you do?

I think that great employee engagement stems from common objectives and being able to unite people around a central purpose. For us, that means  getting people into a job, developing them on the job, and helping them progress on to the next job. This purpose is something that everyone at City & Guilds is proud to be associated with, and works hard to achieve.

One great way we’ve increased engagement is by aligning our efforts around our priorities. For example, one of our priorities is a relentless focus on quality and customer experience. Instead of just telling my teams to focus on the customer and do everything to a high standard, we hold regular competitions, team huddles and breakout sessions to continually infuse the priority into everything they do. We also encourage people to visit customers as much as possible – even if they aren’t in a customer-facing role. As a result, both the customer and quality become embedded and are at the centre of everything we do.

There seems to be a skills gap in the UK at the moment. Do you agree with that and how has that come about?

Absolutely – employers frequently tell us that they are struggling to find people with the right skills. And yet we have almost a million young people out of work. So something isn’t quite adding up.

Part of it stems from poor careers advice – too many young people are encouraged to progress down the academic route when it might not be right for them. Likewise, they’re not being made aware of some of the amazing opportunities certain industries can offer. We are also seeing very saturated industries where lots of young people are competing for relatively few job openings, like the media. Yet a recent report showed that there is a severe shortage of hairdressers in the UK.

To address this, we need to start a conversation between employers and educators. Where are the greatest skills gaps? Where are the opportunities? And what specific skills are needed?

Is the skills gap geographical, in that it is worse in some parts of the UK than others?

Each region of the UK has unique skills needs depending on what industries are prevalent there, so it’s difficult to say where is better or worse. That’s why employers need to step up and engage with local colleges, schools and training providers to help them identify skills gaps and ensure students are gaining the right skills for employment in their local area.

At the end of the day, youth employment is a national issue. But at a local level, there’s still a responsibility to equip young people with the right skills that meet the needs of the local workplace and economy. It’s another reason why I believe so strongly we need more relevant work experience. It can play an important part in getting young people into the workplace by giving them that initial insight into working life that employers are crying out for.

Are there any particular skills that are in short supply?

In our recent report, ‘Making Education Work’, we found out from employers that the biggest shortages are in IT, digital and information services. This is closely followed by engineering and manufacturing. It’s clear that employers need practical, hands-on skills sets. Over half of employers from digital companies (51%) believe that the current education system focuses too much on academia to the detriment of core skills such as literacy, maths and communication. Another problem is expectation. 73% of employers we surveyed in the engineering sector don’t think young people understand what employers are looking for, meaning many do not get past the interview stage. There is much work to be done to solve this, and we all have a part to play.

What are you doing to close the skills gap?

We work closely with employers to identify industry-specific skills and ensure that our qualifications meet their needs. That way, our learners can be assured they have the skills and knowledge to walk right into the workplace and benefit their employers.