Pearson College was the place to be last night as Midtowners gathered for another sold out Big Ideas Exchange exploring the Future of Talent in an uncertain economy. The panel, chaired by former Evening Standard journalist and media consultant James Ashton, saw some of the brightest minds from the worlds of business and politics unpick the key issues facing the UK and Midtowners with regards to incoming talent; including the skills gap, automation, apprenticeships and education. Sir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats; Roxanne Stockwell, Principal of Pearson College London; Gillian Nissim, founder of; Jack Parsons, Digital Entrepreneur and Tim Campbell, Head of Emerging Talent at Alexander Mann Solutions, engaged in a lively conversation expressing both excitement and concern for the Future of Talent, as well as providing actions and considerations that are essential for Midtowners to consider as we move through the Digital Age.


Is there a skills gap?

Ashton kicked the evening off by firing some stats at the panel. “Unemployment is at a 40 year low” he said “but every industry reports a skills shortage; engineers and surveyors, possibly even journalists!” The panel agreed that perhaps there was indeed a skills shortage, but spiritedly defended their views on why.

Leader of the Lib-Dems, Sir Vince Cable agreed that there is certainly a skills shortage, and argued that there had been for as long as he could remember. He added: “Technology is speeding up, capitals are more mobile but a lot of the problems are still the same. There’s an acute problem in London because the labour market is tight but the biggest skills gap is to be found in the most deprived areas of the country.”

Gillian Nissim, founder of, argued that the skills gap could be filled if more mothers were helped back into work after taking maternity leave, stressing what a huge talent pool these women offer: “These are people who have had years, decades sometimes, of work experience and they aren’t returning to the workplace because they’re not able to balance work and family life. Employers could do a lot more to access that talent pool”, while Tim Campbell, the head of Emerging Talent at Alexander Mann Solutions argued that the issue stems from a misunderstanding of what the world of work is from a young age. He said: “World of work is changing dramatically – it is changing under our feet. I think we have to do much more about articulating that”.


Support into the workplace

Roxanne Stockwell, principal of Pearson College and our host for the night was the only panel member to really question the existence of the skills gap. She said: “The unemployment rate is very low – I question if there is a skills gap or if there’s not enough people in the workforce,” but argued that there was a disparity between educators and employers on where learning about the world of work should happen. Her solution, and one which was agreed by the panel was that work experience is key for combatting any skills gap that might exist: “The best thing you can do to prepare a student for work is to let them learn on the job.”

The panel agreed that young people weren’t perhaps getting the support they needed to become highly employable candidates, with digital entrepreneur and advocate for young people’s employability Jack Parsons arguing that young people are often pigeon-holed. “Young people don’t know what they don’t know. I believe every young person is employable – we need to educate them further”. He added “If a young persons route into work is university, let them do it. If a young persons route into work is an apprenticeship, let them do it. Too many young people are getting boxed down a road they don’t want to. Why are you sending young people down the fruit hole when they want to go down the sweet hole?”

Campbell agreed that apprenticeships were a good option for young people, describing himself as a “a passionate advocate” of apprenticeships and their opportunities, but Sir Vince Cable argued that there apprenticeships were not accessible enough. He said “If you want to go to university, there’s UCAS. Teachers know how to fill out UCAS forms. If you want to do an apprenticeship what do you do?”


And so much more…

Over the 45 minutes of conversation and the further questions from the floor, the panel unpicked a massive range of issues that are impossible to cover in an 800 word review. Needless to say, if you didn’t make it, you missed out on a tonne of valuable insight. Luckily though, if you weren’t able to join us for this unmissable evening, you can catch the debate on Facebook and let us know your thoughts! And be sure to book ahead for our next Midtown Big Ideas Exchange. The last two events have sold out over a week in advance – so don’t dawdle!

Grab your *free* ticket now!

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