The ability to compete in a global market is vital to the longevity of UK industry. Competitiveness stems from a business’s ability to understand the market and what works, this insight then allows us to grow in a sustainable manner. But what does that mean?
As employers we have to know about inputs and outputs, investment and gain. One of the best investments over the long term is to make sure there is a growing generation of new, skilled workers that will renew our businesses not just today but over the next five, ten, or twenty years. Employers are best placed to know what is needed in their companies, and so it is vital to come together and work with education providers to guarantee this provision of skilled workers for the future.
This long-sighted investment is, for me, one of the main factors of long term success. Businesses taking ownership of their talent pipelines means training and education is closer aligned to what the business really needs. It also means developing vocational career pathways for employees that will deliver the skills they need to operate best. If a business is able to attract, retain and exploit highly skilled talent then they are more likely to stay competitive.
Research shows the skills picture is complex. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ Employer Skills Survey 2013 shows up to one in five vacancies are open because businesses cannot find people with the right skills, qualifications or experience for a particular role – skills shortages.
But conversely there are employers who are underutilising the skills of their existing workforce. The same survey found that 16 per cent of the workforce, or 4.3 million workers, had skills and qualifications above those required by their current role. This is widespread - 48 per cent of businesses reported skills underutilisation.
The engineering economy is stepping up to tackle these challenges. Crossrail are heading up a new “Industrial Partnership”. What does this mean? It’s exactly what I talked about before: industry leaders working together with smaller subcontractors and education institutions to get a broad view on employment and skills within the sector. As part of this, we are seeing the creation of programmes combing online and classroom-based study, alongside the innovative Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA), the only soft-rock tunnelling training facility in Europe, to turn the needs of employers into a range of qualifications that directly match demand.
We face skills shortages in areas that are going to be central to some of the biggest infrastructure developments over the next decade (such as Spray Concrete Lining, site monitoring workers, underground construction and plant operatives, signallers) and such shortages are a significant barrier to the sector’s future. This is why members of the partnership have pledged investment now into our future to develop vocational pathways, from apprenticeships to MSc modules, to tackle such challenges before they affect productivity.
The importance of vocational education and alternative career pathways will be highlighted at the second National Vocational Education and Training Conference, being held on 13th and 14th November at The Skills Show, NEC Birmingham.
The conference will provide the opportunity for employers, colleges and training providers to come together and discuss common problems and solutions of matching the right skills to the right jobs - particularly higher level professional and technical skills. It is also a chance to network with other industry professionals and share experiences and examples of good practice; I would encourage you to attend.