European workers are fleeing Milton Keynes in response to Brexit but homegrown talent is not stepping up to the plate to take job vacancies, a meeting was told.
Milton Keynes Council is piecing together a strategy to bring schools and businesses together so the city can educate the flexible and skilled workers that employers need in a world where robots are set to take over many jobs.
Cllr Elaine Wales (Labour, Bletchley Park), said getting people to apply for jobs left vacant by people moving back to Europe is “going to be a huge issue”.
She said workers from Poland were leaving jobs at John Lewis, which was “so worried” about the issue that they offered to pay for controversial EU Settlement Scheme fees, before the government scrapped the charge.
“There is going to be a huge issue for us if people do not even apply for jobs,” she said.
Paul Thompson, employer and skills manager at the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP), told the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee that the migration of workers due to Brexit is one of the main issues for business. It is affecting building, retail, and agriculture locally, he said.
Alongside other issues like the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the need for digital skills, he urged businesses and education to work together more closely.
Michelle Currie, the head of Walton High, said Brexit was causing valued colleagues to leave employment because they are “no longer feeling welcome” in the UK.
But she said people aren’t even applying for the resulting vacancies. “If people aren’t even coming through the door for interview, we can’t train them.”
And Cllr Emily Darlington (Labour, Bletchley East) said immigration rules are set to mean that 77 per cent of EU workers earning less than £30,000 will leave the UK. But it will take time to train construction workers, plumbers, and nurses.
“These skills cannot be learned overnight,” she said. “Even plumbers need to learn about Artificial Intelligence now.”
Dr Philip Smith, who chairs the Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership, said local kids were unprepared for a role in business and not enough people were providing training, at the same time as careers advice is “limited and narrow”.
“We are improving local skills but we have come from a low base,” he said.
The committee heard examples from the city where businesses and schools are working together, but Ms Currie, said it was a “struggle” to find businesses that wanted to engage.
“With our Young Enterprise business teams we find it difficult to get business advisers,” she said, adding that there is a shortage of school governors. “We would love businesses to engage with us.”
Dr Julie Mills, the principal and chief executive of Milton Keynes College, urged the committee to bring young people into the process.
“We need to cut young people some slack,” she said.
“They will be working until they are 70 or 80 and we need to see the talents and differences of young people but recognise that they are not the finished product.”
Committee chairman Cllr Sam Crooks (Lib Dem, Broughton) said the focus should be on encouraging the development of ‘relevant skills’ to prepare people for many job changes in their careers.
“We need to get into primary schools, if not earlier, to start the process,” he said. And the creation of a network, where schools and businesses could come together, would also be looked at.
A report will be compiled for consideration by an expert committee before being considered by the Cabinet at a date to be decided.