Kirstie Donnelly to provide an update to the Committee on the work of the City & Guilds Group.
Kirstie Donnelly MBE, Group Chief Executive of City & Guilds Group addressed the meeting on the work of City & Guilds London Institute, its purpose and aims which was essentially still centred around jobs and skills and ensuring that the economy and individuals could prosper.
Aldermen were handed copies of the ‘Great Jobs’ publication launched just last week and which Ms Donnelly highlighted had received much media coverage as well as coverage amongst government and stakeholders. She went on to report that the publication attempted to address the oxymoron that had emerged from the recent pandemic in that there were many jobs available but without people to fill these roles and attempted to explore why this may be the case. Ms Donnelly explained the important role that City & Guilds played not just in delivering training, apprenticeships and skills and qualifications but also in campaigning for everything around what good, lifelong learning and a skills education strategy should look like.
She went on to underline that skills were just as important today as when City & Guilds had been founded in 1878 and that they did make a material difference to the economy. It was highlighted that some of the same economic challenges faced in the second industrial revolution were similar to those being faced today. Ms Donnelly referred to the City & Guilds College which became the Mechanical and Civil Engineering Corps of Imperial College and which the City had helped create as well as the City & Guilds Art School that trained students to world-class standards in applied arts such as stone masonry and the significant work undertaken to set up one of the examination boards – AQA which were all part of the organisation’s legacy and past but which were all still very much flourishing today. These days, the Committee were informed that City & Guilds delivered many thousands of work programmes across 24 industry sectors and offering a variety of flexible, lifelong employability programmes. It was highlighted that City & Guilds had their own training centres across the country where between 1500-2000 apprentices were trained in engineering every year. Over 3 million learners were supported to develop the skills they need every year both in the UK and internationally. City & Guilds also invested in social projects and bursaries so that the impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds could be increased. Ms Donnelly underlined that the organisation worked very closely with the City Corporation and the Livery and highlighted how this work very much aligned with the Education Strategy being rolled out by the City. It was reported that match funding was also provided to 40 Livery companies for bursaries from more modern roles in digital and social media right through to the more rare craft and heritage skills such as thatching.
Ms Donnelly stated that she hoped that the Aldermen could be proud of the contributions made by City & Guilds over the centuries and the vision that their forebearers had had which had very much paid off judging by the millions of young people and adults in the UK and across the world who had benefitted from the City & Guilds experience. However, it was recognised that there was still much work to be done, not least in the skills challenges currently faced which were exasperated by the fast pace of change, technology, the pandemic and Brexit. The challenge here was not dissimilar to that faced in 1878 with a real need to keep training and curricular up to date in a world of accelerating technology change and to recruit and support the best class generation of trainers and equip them to train effectively. Ms Donnelly underlined that life long careers may now be a thing of the past but that lifelong learning remained relevant. Amongst all of this change, it was noted that the education system itself had not undergone dramatic change over many centuries. Ms Donnelly concluded by stating that it was recognised that there was much more that City & Guilds could do working with the City Corporation looking at how the UK approach to skills could be modernised and how the issue of what people learn and when (pace and place) might best be tackled. She added that City & Guilds were also keen to explore what true lifelong learning looked like for people needing to reskill throughout their lives/careers. Building on this, it would also be necessary to look at what lifelong learning looked like in a world of vocational skills for industry. Ms Donnelly went on to mention the possible creation of an innovation learning lab in the space that would be available around the Smithfield Market site going forward.
Ms Donnelly thanked the Committee for their time and invited questions.
An Alderman referred to help available for the unemployed and questioned whether City & Guilds were seeking to work with Job Centres to support those who may lack literacy, numeracy and digital skills to secure employment. Ms Donnelly reported that City & Guilds delivered over one million functional skills courses (Maths and English) every year and that this was embedded in the apprenticeships as well as offered directly to adults who needed to acquire these skills that they may not have left school with. The Committee were also informed that, during the pandemic, City & Guilds had worked alongside the City Corporation on ‘skills bridges’ which focused on helping those adults transitioning out of sectors that had been decimated by the pandemic to acquire new, additional and essential skills to move into a new sector. Ms Donnelly recognised that attracting young people and adults into literacy and numeracy courses required very different strategies and approaches and that this was an example of something that could be tested and embedded in the aforementioned Innovation Learning Lab.
Another Alderman underlined that all on the Committee were passionate about education skills training and commented that he had been pleased to see, under a new CEO, an openness and willingness for City & Guilds to reconnect with the City. He went on to state that, in his view, the City had two unique things that it could continue to offer to this long-standing relationships – the first being its international connectivity/outreach and the second being funds to contribute towards things such as the laboratory mentioned that would continue to promote and explore lifelong, blended, modular learning. He questioned the role that Ms Donnelly felt that the City should be playing here going forward.
An Alderwoman stated that there were now many organisations focused on skills but stressed that one of the many strengths that the City Corporation had was as a great convener. She therefore questioned whether there was something that the City could do in terms of bringing this network together to discuss and establish shared objectives.
Another Alderman referred to the launch of the apprentice levy, highlighting that £1 billion of this per year was unspent. He went on to state that whilst championing apprenticeships was important, modularising skills in a way that all employees could potentially benefit from skills programmes was hugely beneficial and that advocacy around policy change was therefore needed. Secondly, he highlighted that there was a careers festival held annually at the Guildhall that was to be attended by apprentices from all over London and the home counties this year to celebrate apprenticeships and was something that City & Guilds could also connect into. Finally, he referred to the City’s Education Board which was heavily focused on education skills and reported that a past Chair of the Policy & Resources Committee had set up an innovation warehouse in the Smithfield area approximately 12 years ago as a sort of prototype. He suggested that the laboratory idea floated today could well be the 21st century version of Imperial College and something that the Education Board could help take forward as a long-term project.
Another Alderman mentioned that the City were championing ‘green skills for a sustainable skyline’ which was focused on upskilling people in ‘green roles’ particularly around the commercial building sector which was important to the City and was the kind of prototype coming through which would see businesses working alongside training organisations and others to deliver on skills and job creation.
An Alderman referred to the booklet circulated today and the underlying message within on the growing skills gap, identifying IT skills but also fishmongers, poultry dressers, agricultural workers and bakers. The booklet went on to dedicate a chapter to ‘restoring pride in essential jobs’ and the Alderman went on to focus on status and questioned what the City might be able to do to shift the status around certain more traditional trades as well as things such as financial services, professional and legal services.
Ms Donnelly thanked the Committee for their contributions. With regard to the point made as to skills today being more global than when City & Guilds was first founded, she recognised this and stressed that, one of the reasons why she was interested in pursuing the Innovation Lab was to examine what good, blended learning looked like in order to prepare young people and adults for skills that could work globally. This may not necessarily mean that they would physically relocate in their careers but many would perhaps work for multinational and global companies. She underlined that skills were a global commodity and that therefore looking at how these could be portable/stackable and the role of the ‘modern digital credential’ that could follow an individual and allow them to evidence all of their learning could be a theme of the work undertaken in partnership with the City Corporation going forwards.
Ms Donnelly emphasised that focusing in on those essential; industries that had kept the country running for the past few years as well as some of the newer industries such as green skills would be equally important. She went on to state that looking at how a culture of lifelong learning and building an excitement around this so that learning becomes something that people want to do was the real route to genuinely levelling up. She recognised that the City had much to offer here in terms of playing a convening role and helping to bring together much of what was out there around skills and learning and helping to create the right pathways into these opportunities. As well as virtual learning, it was recognised that in-person interaction would continue to be important and Ms Donnelly therefore referred back to the idea of a physical, lifelong learning hub situated in the heart of the City. A location such as Smithfield would also provide an opportunity to showcase some of the more traditional careers mentioned.
The Lord Mayor highlighted that, for many, many years now, skills had been part of the Mayoral agenda and, if anything, this was expected to be amplified in future years following the pandemic. He underlined that going forward conversations would be had with those who had held the office of Sheriff to ask that begin to think about this particular aspect of a common element of all Mayoral themes and to look at what could be done around the delivery of skills alongside the Livery. He also underlined the need to align with and take advantage of the City Corporation’s strengths in this respect.
Another Alderman commented that there appeared to be a disconnect in terms of those seeking people to fill roles and those being trained. He commented that, in his experience, those applying for positions often heard nothing back from employers. He commented that this could make applicants, particularly young people without adequate parental support, despondent and suggested that the City and City & Guilds might also consider introducing a charter of some sort to address this disconnect. Ms Donnelly underlined that one of the recommendations put forward in the Great Jobs report focused on employers and the responsibility on them with regard to inclusion and diversity in the broader sense and how they should treat applicants generally. She stated that the idea of a charter and how this might be kitemarked could work to effectively address this grey area and help improve relationships.
Finally, an Alderman commented that he felt that work of City & Guilds and its brand could be better known. He suggested that City & Guilds be asked to present further to the Committee later this year to highlight where progress had been made in relation to the need to operate more strategically and how this could be taken forward in coming years. The Chairman was supportive of this suggestion.
The Chairman, on behalf of the Committee, thanked Ms Donnelly for her very interesting and informative presentation.