A local Talent and Innovation Ecosystem (TIE) is key to leveling deep inequalities in cities like Doncaster
A new report from the Commission on Lifelong Learning, “Learning ecosystems: a new model for improving skills in Doncaster” argues that the supply of skills needs to be organized locally if low-skills areas like Doncaster are to thrive.
The report is based on a detailed analysis of existing skills supply and economic needs in Doncaster. He finds that just as Doncaster’s economy differs from the national economy, so do its employment and skills needs.
Despite this, the supply of education and skills is determined by national policy objectives and funding allocations, which means local needs are not being met, to the detriment of learners, employers and local economic growth. .
Damian Allen, chief executive of Doncaster Council, explained:
“Doncaster is ambitious and innovative and has enormous potential. Over the past few years we have made great strides in delivering our own agenda, and our new long-term strategy for education and skills for all ages puts local needs and the people of Doncaster first.
“We proactively commissioned this report as part of our mission to transform the way we deliver education services at the local level and is the latest in a series of innovations – which includes collaboration with the OECD to develop a Talent and innovation ecosystem model and hosting the UK’s first-ever Global Partnership of Education Leaders Event – to help us take our aspirations to the next level.
At the heart of Doncaster’s plan is the creation of a Talent and Innovation Ecosystem (TIE).
This model includes the development of a ‘hybrid’ approach to post-school and higher education that will rebalance post-school provision and tackle the ‘missing middle’ of vocational and technical skills. The TIE will bring all learning assets together in one place and create a borough-wide learning community.
With representatives from learners, employers, community partners and educators, the TIE would be orchestrated to formulate new learning programs designed to address local issues and meet the needs of key sectors with growth potential.
The Doncaster team was keen to develop an innovative ecosystem model in line with international best practices, and collaborated with Michael Stevenson, Senior Advisor to the OECDand the wider global education community, including members of the Global Partnership of Education Leaders.
Michael said: “Doncaster’s talent and innovation ecosystem is both a world leader and a world learner. With its innovative approach to retaining young talent and upskilling and retraining adults, Doncaster is attracting interest and support from the United States, Europe and Australia.
“It offers a place-based learning model that can help make upgrading a reality across the UK”
Doncaster calls for a ‘license to innovate‘, to work with government to develop a local curriculum, certification and assessment framework for learners of all ages, in conjunction with and alongside national assessments.
If successful, the Doncaster team believe the plan can become an example of a place-based approach that can be copied and scaled up in other parts of the UK.
In response, the report calls for a ‘place-based’ approach to education and skills to transform lifelong learning and ‘improve’ areas that are lagging behind.
According to LEC Chairman, former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore MP:
“Skills is by far the most critical chapter in the government’s white paper on upgrading. Without reform of the skills system to change how and where they are delivered, the government’s flagship policy risks collapsing. Key to success is greater decentralization of skills to give cities like Doncaster the power and funding to design localized solutions to address city-specific supply gaps.”
The report was produced for the LEC by members of ‘Team Doncaster‘, a partnership of local council, education and business representatives, working with national think tank ResPublica.
Recommendations include calls for greater decentralization and localism if Leveling Up is to succeed; and reforming national funding and curriculum frameworks to remove barriers to access for the millions of adult learners who currently exclude themselves from retraining and upskilling opportunities.
- New location-based budgets, to give local leaders flexibility and responsibility for spending on education and skills in their fields
- A legal right to retrain regardless of prior learning, to support more adults working in disadvantaged areas
- Remove all restrictions on training participation for people receiving social benefits
- Provide maintenance grants to adult learners alongside loans under the Lifetime Loan Entitlement Scheme under the Skills Bill currently before Parliament
The Lifelong Education Commission (LEC) was set up by MP Chris Skidmore in 2021 with Westminster-based think tank ResPublica. Its aim is to break down the many and varied barriers to lifelong learning and to bring about a whole system change for education after 18 years.
It advocates a ‘place-based’ approach to adult learning, as advocated in the Doncaster Report, and equal partnerships between higher education and higher education, as opposed to the current split system.
The report finds that while the Doncaster team made a number of positive transformational changes to the system to improve outcomes for learners, including those made as a result of additional investments in the area of social mobility opportunities, further decentralization of funding and powers is needed. if Doncaster is to succeed in ensuring that the existing skills supply matches local needs.
Although the city has a highly skilled labor force and high quality economic assets, too few local adults participate in higher level learning. 15% of all employers have significant skills gaps.
This is a significant barrier to growth in Doncaster, which struggles to match supply and demand for skills in nearby towns such as Sheffield and Rotherham..
Doncaster’s image is indicative of regional inequalities across the UK, with wealthier and more skilled populations better able to adapt to rapidly changing labor markets.
The result is small clusters of locations moving forward, while less prepared areas are left to stagnate.
Government White Paper on Upgrading proposes Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) to make technical skills training more relevant to local needs. Meanwhile, the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce runs its own LSIP scheme in South Yorkshire.
Director of ResPublica Philip Blond says the plans will fail unless more localism is mandated so towns like Doncaster can develop ‘place-based’ approaches that more closely match local needs and growth plans:
“Innovation and skills are engines of growth in a modern knowledge-based economy. The current system of national policy targets and central funding is not working. The government’s attempt to localize education through LSIPs is commendable but, without a truly local approach to skills, upgrading in towns like Doncaster will be an uphill battle”.
The TIE would also develop a joint FE and HE prospectus for higher level qualifications in four key areas of the economy: health and care; Engineering; Creative & Digital; and green technology.
MP Chris Skidmore thinks it will be vital for the borough to have easy access to these sectors, and in particular green technologies, in order to meet the challenges:
“A green skills strategy could transform Doncaster’s economy. The UK will need 170,000 more workers to qualify each year in jobs like home insulation, renewable energy and electric vehicle manufacturing if we are to meet our net zero targets. 1.7 million jobs will need to be created in net zero industries by 2030. 1.3 million of these will be in occupations that require low and medium level technical skills, which are currently in critical shortage..
 Employer Skills Survey (ESS) 2019
 Sheffield City Area Local Skills Report June 2021 p.51
 White Paper Upgrade
 Ortis Economic Research and the University of Sheffield, Industrial Specialisms in the Doncaster economy, December 2018.
 Charlot, Sylvie, Crescenzi, Riccardo and Musolesi, Antonio (2014) Econometric modeling of the regional knowledge production function in Europe. Journal of Economic Geography, online. p. 1-33.
Learning ecosystems: Doncaster’s new model for improving skills
A launch event for this report will take place from 4.15pm to 5pm on Tuesday 8 March in Doncaster. Speaking at the launch:
- Chris Skidmore MP
- Alex Burghart, MP
- Damian Allen, Chief Executive of Doncaster Council
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