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UK Facing Skills Crisis

March 14 2007 - The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has issued a report entitled UK Skills: Making the Grade based on a survey of over 300 employers. The report states that 55% of the employers surveyed are finding it more difficult to recruit skilled workers now compared to five years ago.

As an example, Tim Crabtree, MD of Abbot Solutions in High Wycombe, is cited as an employer who is experiencing difficulties in recruiting staff with the required skills. He said:

"I spent a year trying to recruit someone for one position. There were people who came to the interview were absolutely awful in terms of their attitude, and there were others who were very nice but the one thing they had in common was their lack of skills."

However, more than 83% of small businesses in the survey were providing training for their employees and 77% assessed staff training needs and evaluated the effectiveness of the training they paid for.

PSN HR Director Dean Hunter said:

"Training is as important as recruitment. Research shows the main reason people leave their jobs is due to lack of development, so training and re-training is a must if you want to keep your staff."

The main barriers holding back training efforts were cited as:

  • The cost of training
  • Time taken away from work in order to attend training courses, and
  • Limited eligibility for government funding

According to David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce:

"As the effects of globalisation are more widely felt it is imperative that the UK workforce is highly-skilled if our economy is to remain competitive. The current education and vocational training system is failing to provide workers with the skills that businesses need. If this is not effectively addressed UK businesses will be seriously disadvantaged."

Louise Potter, the BCC Policy Advisor for UK Skills added:

"Businesses recognise the importance of skills which is why they spend on average £350, per employee, per year on training. However, for many small businesses it can be difficult to absorb this cost. Government support initiatives such as Train to Gain are the right way forward in engaging more SME's in training and we will be working with them in increasing awareness of the scheme amongst SME's.

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September 5 2006 - A report from the TUC says that Britain's workplaces are facing a skills crisis with more than one in three employers refusing to train their workers despite government incentives to do so. This leaves nearly 8.5 million workers without training. Further, only 11.5 per cent of those who do receive training receive a nationally recognized qualification. The report entitled '2020 vision for skills' is a response to the review of skills needs for 2020, called for by Chancellor of Exchequer Gordon Brown in his 2004 budget.

The report finds that the West Midlands has the worst record in the country with nearly 1 million (44 per cent) of the region's workforce not being trained. The North East has the best record but still has 30 per cent going without training. The improved position in the North East is attributed to high trade union membership in the region and the consequently higher number of union/employer training agreements.

According to the TUC, Britain's workplace skills crisis can be solved if employers and the government invest more in adult skills, provide statutory paid time off for workers to train, and give unions and workers a stronger voice in workplace skills bargaining. The report argues that tackling the skills crisis in this way will not only improve Britain's productivity and competitiveness, but also address associated factors such as poverty and social mobility. To promote these social justice issues, the TUC calls on the government to work with partners through the sector skills councils to tackle skills discrimination among women, black workers, disabled, and older workers.

The report suggests that more attention must be given to improving the skills of Britain's current workers, because 70 per cent of the country's 2020 workforce has already completed compulsory education. The report highlights research indicating that six million working age people have severe problems with literacy. Many more have similar problems with numeracy. In the next 15 years some 20 million people will need higher skills levels than at present. Improvement in skills levels is essential if Britain is to close its productivity gap with France and Germany.

The TUC argues that unions are in a unique position to tackle the workplace skills shortage and have already made progress in encouraging and supporting workers back into training and education. The TUC's learning and skills project, unionlearn, together with trade union support, helped over 100 000 people to access courses in 2005 by recruiting over 14 000 union learning representatives. The aim is to increase that figure to 22 000 by the end of the decade supporting over a quarter of a million learners.

Brendan Barber, TUC secretary general said:

"Employers should stop complaining so much about the skills levels of their staff and spend more on training them. Despite many government incentives one in three employers are denying training to millions of workers who need it most. And the government must legislate to make sure that workers get paid time off to train. Britain's unions are already working in partnership with large numbers of employers, through their army of 14 000 union learning representatives, to re-skill their workforces. Government investment has helped this process and it must be increased."



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