Let’s make the most of British talent

BRITAIN’S got talent. This country’s success is built upon a mix of unconventional innovators, plucky entrepreneurs and hardworking employees. But to make the most of this wealth of natural resources, we must ensure that our country has the skills to thrive.
The government already does a lot. Innovate UK, via The Enterprise Europe Network, offers free training workshops for innovative entrepreneurs in small and medium sized businesses. These workshops have been developed for firms that have won awards in Innovate UK funding
competitions, but there are a limited number of places open to similarly technology-led, high growth potential SMEs. For startups, the first port of call should be their Local Enterprise Partnership or Growth Hub, and founders may want to draw on the lessons of their peers for best
practice – something that the Leap 100 breakfasts aim to facilitate. When it comes to talent and skills, we cannot rest on our laurels. According to the latest ScaleUp Institute Report, scaleups cite access to talent as the number one factor that will allow them to continue to grow, with 90 per cent saying that, without it, scaling will be harder.

And it’s not all about coding. When scaleup firms were asked to force rank skills for school leavers and graduates, social skills topped business, management, tech, and finance skills. I started working life at 16 on an apprenticeship scheme with Delco Electronics, a subsidiary of General
Motors Group, in Kirby near Liverpool, moving around the company while studying for a Business Studies degree at Liverpool John Moores University. This comprehensive and wideranging apprenticeship provided me with a foundation of skills and knowledge for my 27 year business
career before entering parliament.

The ScaleUp Institute Report finds that eight out of 10 scaleups which offer apprenticeships said that they brought benefits to the firm, with those that didn’t citing a lack of ability to find suitable candidates. I have also invested in a venture capital fund focused on early-stage tech companies, so I know that finding the right talent to grow a startup business is mission critical. This is why the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships, of which I am vicechair, called last year for schools and colleges to provide better information as part of a reformed
careers advice service that proactively encourages young people to take up an apprenticeship. I’m also an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship, which is currently seeking responses on how to improve enterprise education at universities.

A lot of great work is being done in higher education across the country, but we aim to ensure that best practice is better disseminated across all universities and colleges, so more students have the skills and mindset necessary to be adaptable for the modern world of work – whether as an employee or starting their own business. Teaching skills for a more enterprising workforce cannot wait until higher or further education, though. These should be imbued throughout every stage of education.

The Entrepreneurs Network, in its report A Boost For British Businesses, suggests moving forward with Lord Young’s proposal to introduce an Enterprise Passport. The Passport would accompany an individual throughout their education, encouraging pupils to engage in extracurricular activities, and acting as another way for UCAS and employers to assess candidates. The Leap 100 is a remarkable group of high-growth companies. Their success is proof that Britain is doing something right – but as the demands of high-growth companies for talent and skills shows, more can be done. Our country’s future success demands it.