The UK’s skills shortages in key sectors like engineering, construction and technology are well known and becoming more pressing in the context of imminent Brexit with its likely impact on the ability to recruit skilled workers both from within and outside the EU.
This weekend it was announced that technology investor Sherry Coutu is launching a new app to link schoolchildren with local employers — in an effort to tackle the skills crisis that is holding growing companies back.
Around 15,000 fast-growing businesses and 500 students are believed to have already signed up to the free service, named Workfinder, which will help schoolchildren to find work experience and to apply for apprenticeships.
Sherry Coutu is the co-founder of the Scale-Up Institute, chair of the Financial Strategy Advisory Group for the University of Cambridge and Founders4Schools, and is a non-executive director for the London Stock Exchange Group and Zoopla.
To be fair, the UK Government has also produced initiatives, firstly setting a target of achieving three million new apprenticeships by 2020, to be paid for by a levy on businesses with a payroll of more than £3 million starting from April 2017.
On Monday, the Prime Minister also launched a consultation, in the form of a Green Paper, marking a proposed new industrial strategy of Government intervention to provide regionally-targeted support for innovation and skills development through high-quality practical skills training relevant to local business needs. Businesses will be consulted on the proposals and the deadline for responses is April 17.
For a properly skilled UK workforce businesses need to get involved
Upskilling to a properly skilled UK workforce will not happen overnight and it needs real, practical, positive contributions from businesses, as well as Government. This highlights a major reason for the lack of skills, businesses expecting to recruit fully trained employees, although they may have a point.
Take this example from London, where a survey from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) revealed that more than a third of London businesses cited the cost, an estimated £15,000 to £24,000 per year, as a disincentive to taking on apprentices, nor had the HR capacity to handle them.
There is also plenty of anecdotal local evidence of the difficulties young people have each year in finding work experience placements.
As automation eliminates more and more blue collar jobs, increasing the need for more highly-skilled workers, we would argue that sitting back and waiting for “someone else” to do something is no longer good enough.
While it is undeniable that businesses cannot grow if they cannot find the skilled people they need, consultations take time the UK doesn’t have. Businesses can speed things up by being pro-active in encouraging and enthusing young people via work experience and by offering good-quality training now.
And Government needs to play its part by providing appropriate incentives and support as well as understanding that their imposition of a minimum wage promotes automation. We voted for them.