THE BLOG

Supply and Demand: Addressing Skills Shortages in the Current Climate

22/10/2014 12:02 BST | Updated 20/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Increasingly direct links between our education system and industry operators are helping business leaders get the support they need to sustain a robust and competitive economy, at what is a crucial time for many UK businesses.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show continued promise when it comes to further recovery within in the UK economy after unemployment levels were found to have dropped to their lowest since 2008 recently.

Balance this with news in the same report that average weekly wages are still lagging behind inflation, however, and business leaders across the UK may feel like they are facing some very difficult choices indeed.

In the first instance, they might well be asking themselves how they can best grow their businesses at a time when they could also be coming under pressure to potentially increase their overheads for the sake of the UK economy as a whole.

Primarily, developing the right skill-set within an existing workforce or recruiting the kind of talent required to drive a business upwards and outwards will play a key role in expansion plans in any event.

How to ensure supply meets demand when it comes to establishing that mix of talent is an issue much too large for the employer to tackle alone, however. Ensuring relevant skills gaps are filled quickly and efficiently is a concern which must, therefore, be addressed imminently by educationalists, industry leaders, training providers and learners alike for the sake of the economy as a whole.

The issue of skills gaps, where a particular skillset is missing within the existing workforce, and concerns around skills vacancies, where employers simply can't find the talent required to fill an advertised role, have become increasingly prominent in recent years.

The UKCES Employer Skills Survey for 2013 found that one in five vacancies (20%) was reported as a skills shortage by businesses across the UK, who said they were finding vacancies hard to fill because applicants were lacking in the skills, qualifications or work experience they were looking to recruit.

Meanwhile employers are already taking on more work experience students, expanding graduate schemes and hiring more apprentices as they seek an answer to the problem of growing skills shortages, which in turn is helping drive the falling trend in unemployment previously mentioned.

Ultimately, however, to create a sustainable landscape for businesses moving forward it is essential the future workforce comes equipped with the skills industry requires of them, and that our education and training system is also geared up to ensure emerging skills gaps are identified and addressed before it is too late.

The good news is progress has already been made here - we know that apprenticeship places in the UK have doubled in recent years to more than half a million, and also reached a record high here in Wales this year. Further cuts to the apprenticeship budget in Wales must be taken into account moving forward, however, to ensure all this work is not subsequently undone.

MPs from the UK Government's business select committee also recently called for an urgent Government awareness campaign to support the improvement of the basic reading, writing and maths skills of adults due to shortfall in skills and fears they are undermining the economic performance of the country.

So with strengthened effort to tighten those links between industry, education and government, we can perhaps remain optimistic that employers, academics and political leaders will continue to combine their efforts effectively for the sake of the UK economy, at a time when UK industry could very much do with the support.