Business leaders warn growing skills gap could 'starve' economic growth

A major report from leading business group, the CBI, has warned that more needs to be done to address the growing skills gaps seen in many industries, or economic growth could be threatened.

The annual education and skills survey believes that most jobs in the next few years will be high-skilled in sectors including construction, manufacturing and engineering, yet the majority of businesses fear they will not be able to find the right people to fill the positions.

The report follows the recent Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) strategic economic plan that predicts 45,000 new jobs across the region by 2020, including a 76% increase in employment in advanced mechanical engineering. The LLEP plan also identified 60% of firms were already experiencing skills shortages.

The news comes as South Leicestershire College (SLC) unveils its new part-time course guide, offering adult learners – and employers – a range of professional qualifications across a range of industries, including construction. The college also has one of the largest Apprentice Recruitment Services in the East Midlands, for employers and individuals. The Recruitment Team offers free specialist support for those looking for opportunities and to employers who want to understand how apprenticeships can benefit their business.

The CBI and LLEP propose closer links with education as a major way to address the situation and ensure the next generation entering work are equipped with the right technical skills and attitudes to support their local communities. Indeed, the CBI reports the majority of its members want to work with schools and colleges to support work placement schemes, employer partnerships and apprenticeships, yet a quarter of firms state that their local education providers are not interested in these partnerships.

John Morgans, Chief Operating Officer at SLC, comments: “The traditional academic model remains a valid pathway for many to the world of work. But we need to find new pathways to support both young people and those in our local communities to give them a line of sight to employment. This means placing employment at the heart of education and training, and delivering this alongside partners in business.

“Through these partnerships with business and local employers, companies can engage with the education and training process to ensure the needs for specific technical skills and the demand for ‘work ready’ candidates is met.

“At SLC we already work closely with local communities and employers to develop and deliver a dynamic curriculum strategy that drives academic excellence and nurtures the highest levels of technical and practical skills that reflect the needs of local industries.”

The CBI report also stated that two thirds of businesses invest in workforce training through supporting their staff with part-time study. Three quarters rely on external partners including further education colleges, to deliver their training strategy, although many remain dissatisfied over the quality and price from providers.  With 60% of businesses wanting to engage more with colleges to improve the quality and relevance of vocational qualifications.

Nylacast, a Leicester-based engineering firm, had a specific training requirement for engineering skills for both its semi and skilled employees and approached SLC. Martin Payne, General Manager of Nylast commented: “SLC offered short courses in basic engineering and CNC programming which we found fitted well around their job functions. With the courses being ‘off site’ the employees were able to have one-to-one training and engage in both theoretical and practical exercises. The short courses were very ‘hands on’ and gave our employees more confidence and above all the time to learn new skills, which in a mass production facility, is not always easy to achieve”

View the full CBI report here.