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Wales Falling More Than 20 Years Behind London in the Levelling Up Skills Race

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New data has revealed that levelling up skills across Wales could take decades, with London at least 20 years ahead.

The analysis, carried out by the global education technology company Emeritus, found that it would take more than 20 years for adults in Wales to reach the same level of skills as Londoners.

Based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the analysis shows that almost three in five (59%) workers in London are classed as highly qualified, compared to just two in five (38%) in Wales.

Workers in Wales have a quarter less (24%) higher level qualifications than workers in the south of England, and over a third fewer than Londoners (36%).

The findings suggest that workers outside of London could be at an increased disadvantage on the jobs market as higher technical qualifications become increasingly important to employers. There are consistent skills shortages in roles that use these higher technical skills, and according to Government data there will be almost 200,000 more of these jobs in the economy over the next five years.

The research looked at ONS figures for level 4 qualifications around the UK, comparing the proportion of the population who hold these qualifications and how this has changed over a five-year period to predict future trends in skills.

Across the United Kingdom, the research also found that Wales is the joint lowest-performing nation for skills alongside Northern Ireland, and will also be the slowest to reach parity with other parts of the country based on current trends.

While Northern Ireland is expected to have the same proportion of highly skilled workers as London in 12 years, models predict that it will take almost double that time, 21 years, for Wales to reach that level.

As a result, Emeritus is calling on businesses to make use of the government funding that is already available to Welsh businesses, such as the Flexible Skills Programme, to retrain and upskill their staff.

Anand Chopra-McGowan, General Manager, UK & Europe (Enterprise) at Emeritus, commented: 

“This data paints a worrying picture and should serve as a wake-up call to businesses and politicians. When businesses don’t invest in training up and developing the skills of their workforce, everybody loses out.

“Last month saw the first time since records began that there are more job vacancies than unemployed people in the UK. It’s clear that we’re reaching a dangerous cliff-edge but it doesn’t have to be this way. The Welsh Government is already investing in more training opportunities, giving businesses funding that can be used to upskill their staff.

“Adults in Wales have a golden opportunity to develop the high-level skills to thrive in their careers. If businesses across Wales do their bit, upskill a generation of their workforce, then Welsh workers and the Welsh economy will reap the benefits.”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director, added:

“Skills are key to growth and productivity and there is an urgent need for more skills investment in Wales if levelling up is to be successful.

“The good news for Wales is that there is a continuing strong demand for highly skilled graduates to drive the economy forward. But a question mark hangs over whether the education system is adequately preparing young people for the modern-day workplace.

“Welsh businesses, in conjunction with Government, have a key role to play in meeting these demands. Investing in skills training both for young people and continuous learning for adult learners is now more important than ever.”

Joanna Price, Nations Manager at the Institute of Directors Wales, also commented:

“The link to increasing productivity in Wales is for businesses to focus on the gap in leadership skills. Good governance and business collaboration, together with government support on investment for businesses to access the right leadership training is needed. If we get this right, productivity and job creation will follow.”