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UK Firms Fear Skills Emergency Could 'Starve Growth'

Posted on July 13, 2015 at 12:05 AM

A survey of 310 companies in the United Kingdom - which together empoy over one million people -has some grim findings.

More than half of those surveyed (55%) fear that they will not be able to access enough workers with necessary higher level skills, although 68% (two out of three)  expect the need for such staff to grow in years to come.

Demand for highly skilled workers is particularly strong in sectors that are critical to the rebalancing of the economy, says the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as it publishes the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey today.

They include engineering, science and hi-tech (74%), construction (73%) and manufacturing (69%). The survey comes on the heels of the government's Budget, announcing an apprenticeship levy for larger employers in order, in part, to address skills shortages.

But out of apprenticeship starts in 2013/14, just 2% were higher apprenticeships, which lead to qualifications at a level equivalent to higher education, says the CBI. It is concerned that while the levy may fund more apprenticeships to meet the UK Government target of 3 million, it will not deliver the high-quality, business-relevant training needed, and will also do little to help small or medium-sized businesses.

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General

"The Government has set out its stall to create a high-skilled economy, but firms are facing a skills emergency now, threatening to starve economic growth. Worryingly, it's those high-growth, high-value sectors with the most potential which are the ones under most pressure. That includes construction, manufacturing, science, engineering and technology" says Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General.

Pearson, which partnered the survey, points the way firmly to the need to invest in further education. "Our further education sector, which provides the Higher National Diploma courses that deliver these technical skills, sits on the edge of a funding precipice and may suffer damage for years to come" says Rod Bristow, President of Pearson's UK Business.

Proper funding of further education, he says, would provide a huge boost to British businesses and productivity. "Without improving the supply of skills, the UK will find it hard to remain competitive in the global economy" says Mr Bristow.

The survey reveals a high level of disenchantment within UK business on the level of achievement within the educational system as a whole. Over a third of firms report some concerns with school leavers' literacy/use of English (37%), basic numeracy (37%) and nearly half express concern on communications skills (49%).

A startling close to a third (31%) of firms have had to organise remedial training in core skills for some school/college leavers.

The publication of today's results marks a ratcheting up of the CBI's bid to reform the UK's school systems in a comprehensive reform programme set out through its First Steps campaign to help focus beyond academic ability alone.

Employers, it says, rank attitudes and character (85%) well ahead of qualifications (39%) or academic results (31%) as the most important factors when recruiting.

All of which adds an interesting broader context to the debate on why it is that UK business continues to struggle with the issue of diversity in all its dimensions within its ranks.

Categories: Corporate, Leadership, Training