Theresa May addresses skills, employment and early talent at the CBI conference
20 November 2018
Stephen Isherwood @isherwood_ise
EU queue jumpers, diversity dinosaurs and a top CEO who knows about blind screening: notes from the CBI conference.
It’s hardly surprising that Brexit dominated Theresa May’s speech at Monday’s CBI conference, and the subsequent headlines. But sitting through it, she made almost as many references to skills, employment and early talent.
The political leaders are always the star attractions at the conference and this year was no different. Theresa May took to the stage at one of the most critical points in her premiership. And she certainly didn’t try and spin away from Brexit. The ‘paramount issue of our time’, she called it.
This was not another three-hour marathon at the despatch box, only a 20-minute speech. Yes, there were elements of a partly political broadcast, but also an admission that the country’s poor record on developing vocational skills is a significant issue.
When she talked about the apprentice levy, I heard the word review. And she must be aware that business is baulking at the sheer volume of placements they are expected to deliver to make the new T-levels a success. In her plea for support with the new T-levels she called on employers to support their local communities. She doesn’t just need business onside to help her sell Brexit her deal.
Back on the subject of Brexit, she outlined an immigration system based on talent and skills but didn’t give any details on her policy plans. And referring to EU citizens as queue jumpers in the job market was a) crass, and b) made no sense.
Diversity and inclusion
Sometimes I despair. I assume most senior people in business are bought into the business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I), particularly within those sectors that have acute skills shortages.
Yet, after an enlightening evidence-based presentation from Josh Graff of LinkedIn about inclusivity in the workplace, the CEO of an engineering trade body questioned the need for a D&I focus in recruitment. But I was pleased to say that Josh’s strong answer got a solid round of applause from the 2,000 delegates.
I was also impressed to see a top CEO, Liv Garfield of Seven Trent, able to talk off the cuff about good recruitment. Liv made the case for blind screening, fairer testing and working in social mobility cold spots. But why is Liv one of only six FTSE 100 female CEOs?
For me though, Josh had the quote of the day: "D&I is not just about inviting all people to the party and letting them in, it’s making sure they can dance like nobody is watching when they are there."