Local and regional Chambers of Commerce provide opportunities for employers to work together to improve performance efficiency and effectiveness. Skills are high on the agenda. In this article, East Midlands Chamber Sector Forum and Representation Manager Ian Bates stresses the importance of employers working with training providers.

As the second largest Chamber in the UK with a membership of over 4,200 businesses, the East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire) delivers a core strand of activity under the banner “Bridging the Gap – fixing the link between education and the world of work” – this is in response to the fact that, despite continuing uncertainty about the economy, businesses in the East Midlands continue to demonstrate net growth. However, continued problems in accessing the right skills continue to stifle this growth. 

Much has been made of the struggles businesses face in recruiting staff to meet their requirements, with many anticipating further complications for those that currently employ people from a non-UK EU country.

In wider terms there have been multiple initiatives that have sought to address this issue, with differing levels of success. However, there is still regular feedback from employers that young people are still leaving education ill-equipped in terms of the skills and attributes required to transition into employment. We also hear that employers feel there are too many initiatives, all demanding of their time and which tend to be transient in nature. 

The issues that business face can be put into stark focus if we consider the data collected from the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey between September 2015 and June 2017. It demonstrates consistent levels of recruitment from businesses across the East Midlands, with between 52 per cent and 63 per cent of businesses reporting attempts to recruit each quarter. Of those attempting to recruit over that same period, those reporting difficulties has ranged from 55 per cent to 66 per cent. The survey found that problems are more likely to be experienced by those recruiting to skilled technical and professional roles, but they are also experienced for lower level clerical and unskilled positions.

The importance of addressing this challenge is emphasised by the 86 per cent of businesses that report that they plan to grow over the coming two years, 67 per cent of which say they will need to recruit more staff as part of that growth. 

If we consider these recruitment problems in light of a continued fall in unemployment levels and the uncertainty of potential limitations that may be imposed on migrant workers, it is essential that we have an education system that produces the skills and attributes our businesses tell us they need from young people.

The narrative that now flows through our interactions with business is that they can’t continue complaining about the employability skills of young people if they don’t actively engage with the education sector – the benefits of business engaging with the education sector are well documented, especially in relation to developing a pipeline of talent.  It is essential that we continue to encourage business to look at this activity as a long-term investment strategy.

It is also encouraging to see the direction of travel prescribed in the recent UK Government’s Careers strategy, plus the additional resourcing of the Careers and Enterprise Company – in particular the requirement for schools to identify a named careers leader and the defined requirement to allow Training Providers access to students to discuss vocational routes.

The East Midlands Chamber will continue to support more meaningful engagement between employers and education to “Bridge the Gap”, delivering a range of activities such as our Schools Forum, Employability and Skills Summit, facilitating relationships and through lobbying Government.

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