Solving the skills mismatch

We are facing a huge challenge to keep pace with skills requirements of rapidly developing industry and technology. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported that just over one fifth of job vacancies were considered heard to fill due to skills shortages.

The issue is not that there are not workers with strong skill sets out there (the same commission reported that 16% of UK workers are over-skilled and have skills that are not utilised); it is that there are deficiencies in particular areas. Similarly, the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey found that a third of employers are not satisfied with literacy and numeracy skills of school leavers, and over half wanted schools to develop greater awareness of working life among 14-19 year olds.

Change must occur at every level of learning. For example, early education requires evolution from a model which is based on learning and reciting facts to pass standardised tests, to one which allows children more opportunities to engage with a topic and learn creatively, while developing critical thinking skills. This could go hand in hand with a more hands-on approach, which impacts positivity on levels of motivation, as well as providing a deeper understanding and the opportunity for reflection.

Secondly, the quality and range of vocational qualifications on offer must be improved, and a challenge made to the assumption that an academic route is the only route to success. It is acknowledged that over the next decade there will be significant growth in industries such as healthcare and skilled trades where vocational skill are required. However, in recent years there has been a push to increase the numbers undertaking undergraduate degree courses. Devolution offers potential to develop bespoke skills and training programmes with the collaboration of various partners, based on local skills requirements, and readdress the balance between vocational education and training and formal degree study.

‘Devolution presents an opportunity for local partnerships between business representatives, education institutions and training providers to create quality placements that provide a more focused and longer-term experience’

Thirdly, adult skills and in-employment training are also important to create well-rounded individuals and maintain a competent workforce. Adults aged 25 and above often face the financial barrier of having to fund their own training, allied with reduced opportunities compared to the 16-24 cohort. One solution here is to ensure that employers who cannot deliver their own training have access to local, affordable provision, which is tailored to the specific skills needs of the staff. For those individuals who are looking to access employment, particularly older people or those with multiple and complex needs, there must be an improvement in provision to ensure that they have the opportunity to reengage with the labour market.

The development of particular skills is also vital at all levels of education and within all tiers of the workforce. For example, employability skills are crucial to ensure the best outcomes for people and businesses, they create a productive workforce and are relevant from entry level to managerial positions. Groups such as the CBI often cite employability skills as a key requirement, often more so than specific formal qualifications. Similarly, entrepreneurship education is becoming increasingly vital in a global marketplace. These skills allow people to start up their own business and make a direct economic contribution, as well as develop competencies in problem solving, team building and leadership. It is important that business and education institutions collaborate and weave these skills into their provision.

Finally, young people and those looking to access the labour market need to be given the opportunity to develop their skills in a professional environment, through apprenticeships and work placements. Once again, devolution presents an opportunity in this regard for local partnerships between business representatives, education institutions and training providers to create quality placements that provide a more focused and longer-term experience. This would go some way to closing the gap which exists in basic life skills reported by businesses regarding younger workers.

Matthew Todd
Matthew is a researcher at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies.


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Ian Jones
Ian Jones
8 years ago

My personal view of this situation is that ‘it is a question of demand’ from employers. However, it needs to be effective demand as employers need to invest in their current and future workforces, which will mean a strong willingness to pay. This could be in the form of employing young people and sponsoring them whilst on apprenticeships or undertaking a degree. Or by investing in bespoke courses. If employers want provision to change then they need to drive it, not just by saying that the current offer doesn’t meet their needs but by clearly articulating what is required. Also they need to take a longer term view e.g. many employers say that they cannot recruit staff with the right experience, but the low numbers available are due to under-investment in the past. No one can just create people with 10 to 15 years experience and skilled professionals do not just fall out of the skills system ready made. Employers also need to fully understand the product produced by schools, colleges and Universities and recognise that they need to invest time and money shaping these people into the skilled workforce that they need.

Peter Sharp
Peter Sharp
8 years ago

From speaking to employers in our district, the key challenge is recruiting ‘work ready’ employees of whatever age. Since the demise of Connexions, the quality of IAG / careers advice in schools & colleges is distinctly mixed which can hinder people seeking to enter the workplace for the first time. There is a need for compulsory IAG provision in schools (possibly with a greater element of employer involvement) to ensure that, even if candidates lack experience, they have the soft skills needed for employers to view them as ready for work.

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