Queen’s Speech 2021: What D&I minded organisations need to know

The Government's new bills will promote hiring and training for veterans and offer flexible loans to adults wanting to gain higher education

The Queen’s Speech 2021 outlined the Government’s policy priorities for the year, which included laws to improve career opportunities for veterans, better protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and a new “flexible loan” system to encourage adult participation in higher education.

1. Hiring and training veterans

The Government has announced that it will further support military veterans via the Armed Forces Bill 2021, an update of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

According to the Government website, the new bill will “prevent service personnel and veterans being disadvantaged when accessing services like healthcare, education, and housing and improve the Service Justice System for our personnel wherever they are operating.”

Launched in 2011, the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC) persuaded businesses to commit to “offering part-time or flexible working patterns to reservists, military spouses, and partners.” Many have also “pledged to offer free training and to actively recruit veterans.”

With the Armed Forces Bill enshrining the AFC in law, more businesses will likely commit to hiring and offering training services to veterans transitioning to civilian life.

2. Protecting staff from sexual and physical abuse

There was also mention of a new Domestic Abuse or Victims Bill, which aims to “create new rights for the victims of crime, including new standards on support offered to sexual and domestic victims.”

As cases of domestic abuse rose during the lockdown, it’s imperative that organisations and their HR teams keep abreast of the new legislation so this can be communicated to the workforce for their knowledge and safety.

3. Diversifying and upskilling the talent pool

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill promises a ‘flexible loan’ system for adults, which is “designed to promote wider participation in further education in England.” The loan is for use for education at universities and colleges and is for candidates at any time in their lives and will “provide the equivalent of up to four years’ study and can be used for full-time or part-time courses.”

The Government will also encourage businesses and trainers “to target local needs in sectors including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing”.

The bill is designed to equip candidates with ‘skills for life’ and will give “employers a statutory role in providing publicly funded training programmes.” It is also a response to the workforce wide skills-shortage, where “in 2019 employers were unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills.”

With digital transformation on the horizon and employers desperate to hire talent with the right skills to meet these changing workforce demands, upskilling the “third of working-age undergraduates” that aren’t yet “in highly skilled employment” is crucial.

As a result of the bill, employers could see an increasingly diverse talent pool in terms of age and socio-economic background, among other characteristics, enter the workforce in the next few years and should be aware and prepared to recruit accordingly.


4. Improving CSR and social impact initiatives

Employers that want to improve their CSR and social-impact record should take notice of the Environment Bill, which “will introduce new post-Brexit rules on protecting nature.” Organisations could make a head start with fundraising activities or team-building efforts that seek to preserve nature spots or engage in other sustainable, environmentally friendly projects.

The Queen’s Speech also referred to the proposed legal ban on gay conversion therapy in England and Wales, again, organisations can showcase their support for the LGBTQ+ community and promote themselves as an inclusive employer by highlighting support for the ban on their social channels and could discuss the legislation with LGBTQ+ staff; they could also hold fundraising events for community charities.

The speech also referenced that the Government “would be introducing measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities,” following the publication of the Sewell Report, which received a mixed response from the public.

Organisations should stay tuned to this development to see what initiatives the Government introduces to make the UK a more equitable place for ethnic minorities and what impact this could have on organisational D&I.

Where are the provisions for disabled talent?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy at membership organisation Business Disability Forum, said: “Legislation announced today to increase the skills of young people and adults is to be welcomed, but more needs to be done to address the specific barriers that disabled people experience in both pre-and-post-16 education. We also heard very little today about how the lifetime skills guarantee will convert to lasting job opportunities for disabled people as businesses continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

“For many disabled people, the barriers to learning begin in primary education and continue through to secondary. These are predominantly due to a lack of adjustments and assistive technology that suit the way that some people learn. Many disabled people have told us they have studied later in life for this reason.

“Further Education colleges are often local with good transport links and good disability student support. But any post-16 and adult education opportunities need to be inclusive. We know there is a huge issue with inaccessible remote learning platforms and course materials being in inaccessible formats.

“At the moment, many disabled people can only access the technology they need post-16, either when they are in work or in Higher Education. We are calling for the introduction of a ‘Tech for Life’ model. This would allow people to access assistive technology throughout their lives, from primary and secondary education, through to Higher Education and training, and looking for and applying for roles.

“We were also disappointed not to see more on employment, specifically, given the challenges facing many of our Members, as they continue to support their workforces through the pandemic. It is unclear how the Lifetime Skills Guarantee will deliver lifetime careers and job opportunities for disabled people.

“We are waiting to see the role that skills and training will play in the Government’s expected National Disability Strategy and how that, in turn, will help close the disability employment gap. There are still many questions to be answered.”

Industry leaders react

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft, added: “Over the past year, COVID-19 has shaken the economy from causing redundancies to disrupting careers across many sectors. For many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market and the growing digital skills gap. Research from CBI revealed that businesses, the Government, and individuals need to increase spending on adult education by £130bn by 2030 to narrow the skills gap.

“Last year, the Government launched a Kickstart Scheme to help organisations employ young people and take on apprentices. This has been key to helping address the skills gap faced in the UK and help young people take advantage of the opportunities in the tech sector.

“With digital transformation encroaching on all industries, the announcement today promising a ‘skills revolution for England, with loans for adults wanting to retrain and more powers to deal with failing colleges, is very much welcomed. This is a vital step in growing the skills of tomorrow as well as supporting the UK economy to build back up after a year of turmoil.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Business shares the Government’s ambition to turbocharge the UK’s recovery post-pandemic and reset the economy. The Queen’s Speech provides the building blocks for a decade of transformation and inclusive economic growth.

“It’s right that the golden thread in this legislative agenda is levelling up the country. We haven’t got a moment to lose. The strong focus on skills will support high-quality, local jobs. The emphasis on rail, bus and digital will better connect local economies. And a fresh approach to innovation will unlock big, bold ideas and new sources of growth around the country.

“But business will feel there were some missed opportunities. Firms were looking for greater impetus on enabling legislation to speed up the race to zero and action on business rates to stimulate investment and revive our high streets. The UK’s international competitiveness relies on playing to the economic strengths of our regions and nations. It’s time to turn these measures into swift and bold action.”

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