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Skills development

An approach to skills development that is truly innovative and focused on combining organisational and individual needs.

Despite many challenges, councils have consistently prioritised learning and development to ensure the needs of their service users, customers and clients are met. Councils have ensured also that statutory training was maintained. For example, the Investors in People (IiP) standard was achieved by over 75 per cent of councils throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In the last decade there has been a decline in registration to IiP, although this has coincided with both rising costs for accreditation and unprecedented reductions in overall council budgets.

The financial challenge meant that many councils had to focus skills development spending on statutory training only and other forms of development like continuing professional development were stopped. Councils have however identified key areas where skills development is required and invested in the development of the workforce on an issue-by-issue basis. This is seen when there is specific need to ‘grow’ the existing workforce into skill shortage areas, or when new technology or a new business need is identified. 

Over the past twenty years the LGA Workforce Survey and previous surveys have shown that councils have remained fairly consistent in the skills gaps they have identified. There have been some marginal changes due to shifts in workforce practices and as a result of challenges in particular to increase productivity. In the most recent survey in 2016 the generic skills gap identified commercial skills (or how staff can be more innovative, efficient and commercially focused in their job/service) and digital skills (use of digital solutions/services/technologies) as top priorities across local government, along with managers ability to manage change and manage performance.

Occupational skill shortages continued to focus on the professional areas of local government such as education, children’s and adult social work and the regulatory services such as town planning, as well as corporate areas such IT and finance.

By making the most of skills to address the challenge of ‘doing more for less’, councils are able to offer enhanced roles, creating better job fulfilment, aid retention and reduce turnover. Any skills investment strategy should focus on both capability and capacity.

As referenced above, the biggest opportunity for skills development is the advent of the Government’s apprenticeship policy in 2017. The apprenticeship challenge and opportunity for local government involves being agile and flexible enough to be able to work in partnership with others locally, regionally and nationally to assess development needs, identify the right apprenticeship standards and find the right training delivery partner to succeed. Councils are identifying skills development and skills capacity as a key part of their apprenticeship strategy.

By working across organisational boundaries with health and social care partners, skills development can be rationalised and afforded through the apprenticeship levy system. 

Frontline staff development, access to the professions and higher skill levels can benefit the most from the apprenticeship levy. Areas such as adult’s and children’s social work, regulatory professions and any graduate entry profession can all benefit in the long term. 

It is also important to do more work in understanding the reality of digital service transformation and the skills gap related to that. The LGA will continue to examine this area.

Actions for the LGA and partners

  • continue to share innovative approaches in design, development and evaluation of skills programmes
  • continue to support councils in maximising the return on investment of the apprenticeship levy
  • work with partners to develop coordinated approaches to workforce issues in social care (including outsourced provision) 
  • continue to work with national health organisations on workforce issues in health and care integration 
  • support regional and national approaches to skills development practice particular in developing apprenticeship pathways and graduate apprenticeship schemes, including converting our National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) to an apprenticeship programme by 2018