Can Employers Do More To Help Bridge The UK Skills Gap?

The ‘UK skills gap,’ the ‘UK skills shortage.’ Phrases that never seem to go away and it certainly looks as though 2017 is not going to be any different to previous years. As with many of the issues facing the nation, how best to address these problems is always a cause for much debate with academics, employers, government think tanks all having their own theories.

Skills Gap

At E4S, we attract thousands of young people looking for work. Some are looking for part time student jobs at evenings and weekends to help fund their studies. Some are students who are looking for seasonal work that both boosts their bank account and gives them valuable work experience, whether here in the UK or overseas. Others are looking for internships or graduate jobs and some are school leavers who are looking to begin their career by way of Apprenticeships.

Whilst these young people might be looking for work of different kinds and for different reasons, they all have a few things in common. They are all keen and willing to learn. They want to progress in their chosen careers and develop the skills needed to succeed.

And so, if this is the case, why is it that we have the constant of the need to bridge the UK skills gap. Why are our young people, whether at university or school leavers, not equipped or qualified to do certain jobs? We know that as those vacancies continue to arise and go unfilled, this will be hugely detrimental to the British economy and also have a knock on effect in other countries around the world.

So, what can be done and what is being done? Is there one group that can solve the problem or does there need to be a coordinated effort between different groups and organisations? In this article, we will look at the role employers can play in bridging skills shortages.

What Can Employers Do To Help Bridge The UK Skills Gap?

As an employer, you will be aware of your own organisation’s current situation. Do you feel your staff are fully equipped to do carry out their roles to the best of their ability or are there some skills needed that are lacking which are preventing your team from driving the business forward?

When you recruit young staff, does your eye skim down the application or CV in the vain hope of spotting those essential skills you are looking for?

Are your new young recruits equipped to fill your vacancies? Has the degree or the qualification that your candidate has done prepared them for your opportunities? If not, is there something you could do as an employer to get your graduate recruits and school leavers up to speed? Let’s take a look at some suggestions for making inroads into fill those gaps in the skills of staff.

In House Training And Outside Courses For Employees

Yes, they have qualifications under their belt but young people and graduates are far from being the finished article when they apply for your roles. Landing their first job with you is just the beginning and they are eager to learn more; not just specifically about their role but their industry as a whole.

Continuous investment in staff, after they have been employed can keep skills right up to date. In house training, practical assistance and external courses can really help your graduate recruits to excel and also keep their motivation levels topped up because they know you are investing in them. Young people are eager to learn and feel motivated so is it possible to make use of that in the workplace?

We all know that the pace of changes in technology in any workplace can be mesmerising and this can change, if not completely cancel out, the need for some roles in an organisation. In order for a business to continue to compete and succeed, it makes sense to have staff who can adapt and keep their skills up to date whilst in their roles. Courses and other forms of training are an ideal way to help solve this. Of course, the quality of the course is vitally important.

Offering Apprenticeships To School Leavers

For school leavers who are not taking the university route, there is another option for employers to invest in young people, get them into the workplace and encourage them to excel. Offering Apprenticeships is a great way to benefit young people and your business and to start addressing the bridging of the skills gap.

If you have considered offering apprenticeships in the past but, after having looked at the framework for your trade or profession, decided that Apprenticeship seemed to long winded – too much paperwork and pathways that perhaps might not be directly relevant to your workplace – it might be worth taking another look. Don’t forget, there is funding available for Apprenticeships so you shouldn’t lose out financially.

Last month, I wrote about Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards. The target is for all trades and professions to have these new Apprenticeship Standards ready for delivery by the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

Apprenticeship Standards should equip young people to excel in their role. They are a real attempt to address the skills shortage in the UK. The paperwork has been brought down to a minimum and, because these Standards have been devised by employers and professional bodies (where there is one) within your trade, Apprentices should be really learning the skills and gaining the knowledge necessary to carry their profession forward.

Addressing Regional Issues

As an employer, depending on where your organisation is based, you might be well aware of a skills shortage in your area because you lose all the area’s best young talent to regions that can offer better salaries or a more attractive lifestyle. Cities and towns that are seen to be the place to live for young people can entice your region’s young talent away. Regeneration in many towns and cities has helped to address this but for many areas, much more needs to be done if companies can successfully tackle their skills shortage. Some towns and cities in the UK are trying to address this with collaborative projects between councils, schools and employers.

Quality Courses And Education – Collaboration

I mentioned above that young school leavers and graduates are not the finished article when you offer them roles within your company. Indeed, as an employer, you might even struggle to find young recruits who have any of the relevant skills to carry out their work. Well, those young people are aware of this, too, and some acknowledge that their courses or training have not prepared them for what they need to do in the workplace. As I said above, the quality of the courses and training that you invest your time or money into is vitally important.

Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards are addressing this and in some regions, colleges and other education centres are collaborating with employers, too. This is another important way of attempting to bridge the skills gap. As an employer, are you aware of the courses that are on offer at your local colleges, universities and other education and training centres?

These could be courses that are really worth investing in; encouraging your employees to undertake them. If you are an SME or a startup and funds are tight, some of your employees might be able to fund themselves in return for time off to complete coursework, attend classes, revise or take exams. (And if you get yourself a reputation as an employer who invests in their staff in such ways, as well as doing your part to bridge the skills gap, you could also attract more young talent to apply for your vacancies and also boost your staff retention.)

Communicating With Other Employers

How is your relationship with other employers in your vicinity, especially those in your field? Sharing ideas with each other about how staff are being trained can throw up solutions you might not have thought about previously. This could be recommended courses or time management tips for staff who are trying to meet work commitments and complete studies at the same time.

From collaboration, other ideas could also be born that neither party had previously considered as a result of discussions with different employers.

Communicating With Existing Staff

If you have recruited students and graduates to your workplace, it does not need to be a guessing game, trying to decipher what training best suits them. Especially after they have been in the workplace a for a few months, your young staff will be fully aware of where their skills shortages are. A system in the workplace where staff can feel heard about the training they think they need could really help to boost your production.

For example, college courses and other training do not necessarily need to be a programme where a formal qualification is received at the end. It could be a short course, undertaken over a few days to bridge a skills gap. Your young staff might be really computer savvy and offer lots of IT and social media knowledge but there could a be a skills gap there for making the best use of spreadsheets or data analysis. A short course could overcome this and allow your staff to do their jobs more efficiently.

Start Young

This is about being involved with your local community. Not all jobs and skill sets are as attractive as each other and you will know yourself, if you are an employer in one of those industries that might not be seen as quite so attractive by the masses, you can often struggle to attract applicants. You can definitely struggle to attract applicants with the right skill set.

So, ‘start young’ means making contact with young people in your local community by collaborating with schools. And don’t just think about high schools. If possible, why not make contact with your local primary schools and see if you can go into the schools to work with the children. These types of projects are being run in some areas especially with jobs such as engineering which require STEM subjects. It could be a case of going into classrooms to contribute to lessons or you could go as far as running clubs where pupils can attend and really learn about what goes on in your company. You could even arrange a visit for pupils to have a tour of your firm, depending on your type of company.

Apart from low numbers of young people concentrating on STEM subjects at school and university, the number of females taking these subjects is desperately low. Getting in there at primary school level can make girls more open to the idea of working in your industry. And if you have females doing student jobs, Apprenticeships or graduate programmes with you, who better to get into schools to encourage more girls to follow suit.

This is not going to help you bridge any skills gap in the short term but it is a long term goal where your company can really play a part in addressing skills shortages in your local area in the future.

In Conclusion

Of course, there is no one person or body to blame for the existence of the skills shortage in the UK. While there are many theories about how best to address it, the constant through all of this is that collaboration and discussion between different bodies is absolutely key. A skills shortage affects not only individual companies but also the future success of the British economy.

Getting young people into employment at all levels – and making sure they receive the best training possible for their role – whether they are school leavers, students or graduates is vital. There is a whole generation out there who can make a very valuable contribution to the development of the British workforce.

If you are an employer looking to invest in the future of Britain’s young talent, why not advertise your vacancies with E4S and tap into that talent right away? We have a whole cross section of young people looking for work of all types who visit our site: graduate careers, temporary seasonal work, Apprenticeships, part time weekend roles. Whatever types of job vacancies you have, you could fill them here.