31/07/2014

By Askar Sheibani, CEO of Comtek and Entrepreneurship Champion for Wales

In the last week, the UK economy has returned to pre-recession levels, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which revealed that the economy has expanded 0.8% between April and June. However, as organisations look to take on more staff to sustain growth in their sector, attention must turn to the pool of resources on offer.

Statistics gathered by the House of Commons, suggest that there were 817,000 young people aged between 16-24 out of work between March and May 2014. If these figures infer anything, it’s the worrying disconnect in the UK economy between the education and training we are giving our youth – the future of Britain – and the requirements of employers today. Put simply, if Britain wants to undergo a full economic recovery, it’s clear that this skills gap must be closed.

Understanding and managing the gap

The mismatch between the skills required by employers and the skills available is something that industries across all sectors are experiencing. This is felt especially acutely in the manufacturing sector, where engineering skills are in high demand, but short supply. Not only is the industry historically ‘male’ dominated, which has left British women reluctant to study any engineering courses or take up a career in engineering, but the vast majority of students at British universities studying engineering courses, such as electronics and telecommunications, are overseas students. The combination of British students’ choices at school and university, coupled with the lack of on-the-job training offered by employers, is most definitely contributing to the overall drought of resources being witnessed today.

The Government is attempting to make progress in addressing the shortage of skills, with initiatives such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) inviting employers to put forward proposals to improve skills in the workforce, of which successful bids will receive government funding. However, if we are to close the skills gap, businesses need to play their part too and invest in their employees and utilise the internal expertise they already have for training. Then they will see the long-term benefits of skill-generating initiatives.

Reaping the rewards

For employees, developing skills that the UK market needs is vital to improving future job prospects and encouraging social mobility. These skills will also shape an employee’s economic potential for their personal wealth, business success, and even in their ability to inspire future generations in the wider community.

As for businesses, there are huge benefits to be gained from investing in employees at the start of their careers. Developing a workforce with a specific and relevant skill-set and a loyal attitude to the company, will enable the business to better meet customer demands and retain employees who their customers trust. For this reason, employee development should be a fundamental part of every business strategy.

For the UK economy as a whole, educating and training young people in areas that are in demand of skills, both at school-level and on-the-job, will ultimately drive unemployment down, as employees will finally be able to fill the positions that have been left vacant. In turn, this will boost the wealth and capabilities of the UK workforce, which will contribute to the growth of the UK economy.

Plugging the gap

Ultimately, the skills shortage needs to be addressed with good training from businesses, and with the support of the Government. It is only with this investment in training that more people will be encouraged to enter the industries currently lacking in talent, and the dots between surplus jobs and the unemployed will be connected. Not only will this stimulate the economic climate by providing a better-trained workforce, but it will also help to foster the business leaders of tomorrow.

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