Simon Clarke: A vibrant skills economy is the key to boosting social mobility

We are on the cusp of immense change, and as in any time of change, a window of opportunity arises. The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, when it happens, will be this window of opportunity. 

I’d like to see Brexit used as a fresh start for our country with a strong focus on rejuvenating our skills economy, helping people get on in life, and ensuring opportunity and real social mobility for young people across the country. 

But to do this, we have to focus on one of the critical issues facing the upcoming generation, and whether we realise it yet or not, this issue is the ‘skills gap’. 

I am the proud to represent Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland in Parliament, an area in the North East of England that was built on the skills economy. From manufacturing of cars and chemicals - we know it better than anyone how crucial skills are to prosperity in our local area. 

This is why we have to anticipate the future and prepare for it. 

According to recent findings, more than three-quarters (79%) of businesses expect to increase the number of higher-skilled roles in the coming years, yet two-thirds (66%) of the same businesses fear that there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill vacancies. This is what we know as the ‘skills gap’ our country is faced with.

Addressing the skills gap will become the policy issue for the upcoming generation. While it is becoming increasingly accepted that improving social mobility is one of the biggest challenges the UK faces - up-skilling the workforce and addressing this skills gap will be fundamental part of the solution. 

I am grateful to have been named the Social Mobility Pledge’s ‘Skills Champion,’ tasked with the responsibility of searching out business-led best practice and methods to boosting the skills economy and thus social mobility, and how the most effective business-led solutions and initiatives can be scaled wider across all sectors and areas of the country. 

The Pledge recently launched its Talent Chain campaign, looking at life cycle social mobility, and how re-training programmes mid-careers are being used by some companies as a means of redistributing the skills across the economy. One such company the Pledge has assessed is Standard Life Aberdeen, which implemented a returners programme for those who have spent time unemployed, which is one such example of business-led best practice. 

I am looking forward to getting to working with the Social Mobility Pledge in boosting social mobility across our country, and tackling inequality in all its forms.

Lewis Grice