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Gloucestershire Business News

Skills shortage now critical for businesses

Gloucestershire business leaders have warned that the skills shortage is one of the biggest issues facing county companies in 2018.

A report from the British Chambers of Commerce says the shortage of skilled workers in the UK is reaching critical levels and a large number of companies are struggling to recruit qualified staff.

Some 71 per cent of businesses in the services sector are finding it difficult to hire the right workers which is the highest on record. Three quarters of manufacturing firms are struggling to find workers with the right skillset.

Ian Mean, director, Gloucestershire Chamber, Business West, said: "Without fear or favour, I would say that investment in skills is probably the biggest issue facing business in Gloucestershire.

"The situation is so serious here that the Local Enterprise Partnership-GFirst LEP and the county council -have just set up a Skills Board to tackle what is indeed a crisis for companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

"Bluntly, firms just cannot get the right skilled people in numbers. The skills figures are extremely worrying.

"Every year, Gloucestershire needs around 13 000 new people to take existing Gloucestershire jobs to replace those leaving for retirement or other reasons. So, we will need 130,000 new workers in ten years."

But where are these people going to come from?

"In a good year of economic growth, Gloucestershire creates between 5,000-10,000 new jobs," said Ian Mean.

"We must ensure that more of our young people are studying the STEM subjects-science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"You can see this in evidence at the newly opened Berkeley Green campus on the site of the old decommissioned nuclear power station.

"And I think the advancement of skills in the county will get a big boost with the opening later this year of the University of Gloucestershire's new Business School at Oxstalls.

"But the government simply has to put skills at the top of its employment agenda with apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships.

"Unless they do that as part of an industrial strategy that is joined up and realistic, a county like Gloucestershire with a great heritage of specialist engineering skills will suffer badly."

Sam Holliday, Gloucestershire development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "It is obviously great news that levels of employment are so high in Gloucestershire and beyond at the moment but what that does mean is that businesses are struggling to find enough people to fill their vacant roles.

"When it comes to finding people for skilled jobs that struggle is intensified even more and so the Government needs to work with industry and the educational sector to make sure we are training enough people to fill the jobs of today and indeed tomorrow.

"The UK skills gap seems to be getting ever wider and we risk losing out as a country and an economy if we don't try to deal with it as a matter of urgency."

Kieran O'Donoghue of HR Champions, the HR and training solutions for growth specialists, said the skills shortage threatening economic recovery had been a recurring theme over the past six or seven years.

"Clearly the education system isn't delivering relevantly qualified personnel into the marketplace. It's probably a fair comment then that businesses should take some responsibility and invest in training staff themselves in order to grow," he said.

"Moreover, employers should be engaging directly with schools to educate them in what businesses require form school leavers. Promoting apprenticeships and offering meaningful work experience should form part of an employer's recruitment process. Those that take a pro-active approach now will be the ones ahead of the curve and reap the rewards over their competitors.

"In the meantime, employers will need to squeeze more productivity out of their existing staff. Clearly defined objectives and targets supported with a sustainable recognition and reward programme will help to achieve this.

"Good management practices such as regular reviews and appraisals that promote an engaged workforce will help to develop a business's 'brand' as a respected employer making it easier to recruit and retain employees.

"Equally it's important to weed out the underperformers who are holding the company back. There is little incentive to work hard if the next man or woman is rewarded the same for achieving less."

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