Employers await skills strategy

The
Government’s skills strategy is due to be published this week. But what are
employers expecting and what is its likely impact? Ben Willmott and Ross Wigham
report

The
Government’s long-awaited skills strategy is due to be published later this
week, containing a raft of proposals aimed at meeting skills shortages through
improved links between business and education and training providers.

The
strategy likely to be unveiled by the Secretary of State for Education and
Skills, Charles Clarke, is expected to ensure that regional and sector skills
shortages have a greater influence on the type of education and training
available to young people.

Another
key strand of the strategy is likely to be more targeted support for
low-skilled adults, helping to engage them in education and training by
providing higher-quality advice and learning programmes that meet their needs
more effectively.

Plans
to provide higher-quality and more coherent education and training for young
people on Modern Apprenticeships and those studying vocational and occupational
courses, are also set to feature in the strategy.

Personnel
Today asked a number of employers in different sectors what skills shortages
they face, and what they are hoping the skills strategy will include.

Engineering

Shirley
Woolley, HR director for precision engineering firm Frederick Woolley, said she
would welcome any initiatives by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES)
to make education and training more relevant to local business needs.

Woolley
believes the DTI has already helped the manufacturing sector address skills
needs by setting up the Manufacturing Advisory Service and the new Science
Engineering Manufacturing Technology Alliance Skills Council (Semta).

She
praised what she identifies as increased co-ordination between the DTI and
DfES; for example, in setting up the Science and Engineering Ambassadors
network to improve the promotion of the manufacturing sector within schools.

Woolley
said there was a particular shortage of apprentices with craft and technical
skills. To address this, employers need more support to help find the right
training providers to deliver work-based training.

She
called for more work-based GCSEs, such as engineering, which was introduced
into the national curriculum in September last year. "The underlying
issue, that as a business you are only as good as your staff, will never go
away," she warned.

Leisure

Ros
Barker, HR director at Ladbrokes, said her industry suffers from a lack of
people with customer service skills, and believes there is still a need to
improve the basic literacy and numeracy of school leavers.

"There
is a problem with basic writing, spelling, punctuation and comprehension, which
I think is partly a spin-off from an over-dependence on technology," she
said.

Barker
also believes there needs to be a better balance between vocational and
academic qualifications in schools.

She
is optimistic that a Sector Skills Council (SSC) she is involved in helping to
establish, which will represent the leisure, hospitality and tourist
industries, will provide increased funding and help create a more joined-up
approach to meeting skills shortages.

Catering

Garry
Hawkes, non-executive chairman at Aramark, which provides catering vending,
cleaning and refreshment services, agrees there is currently too much emphasis
on academic qualifications and not enough vocational training available for
young people aged 14 to 16.

"There
is a real need for some children between 14 and 16 to benefit from an effective
day-release programme that allows them to work in industry and get enthused by
it," he said.

"This
would also require committed employers – not exploiting young people but giving
them real and effective training.

"At
the moment, we have a system that confirms people’s failure at an early age,
whereas what we need is a system that confirms people’s potential," he
said.

Hawkes,
chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, is hopeful the SSCs will provide a more
holistic solution to meeting skills.

However,
he is concerned that some councils will not have enough sector-specific focus
because they represent too wide a range of industries.

Pubs
and restaurants

John
Brackenbury, deputy chairman of Pubmaster, said skills shortages in his sector
were damaging employers’ ability to live up to the required quality of
standards. "The skills shortages go right across the board, but the sector
is especially short on chefs. The catering and leisure industry is short of
about 50,000 qualified chefs," he added.

He
said the problems were partly due to the tight labour market, but he also
blamed the Government for failing to put money in the right areas.

"The
emphasis is on the wrong area. I want to see some tangible support for
employers so we can work in partnership to raise skills," he said.

He
hopes the skills strategy will enable employers to work with the SSCs to
develop better training and more of a career path in the industry.

Manufacturing

Margaret
Gildear, director of learning and development at Rolls-Royce, is hoping the
skills strategy will place more emphasis and resources on the Modern
Apprenticeship system.

She
said the more employer-led SSCs were a step in the right direction, but wants
them to have more spending autonomy.

"The
SSCs should have a role in funding so projects that will really improve the
economy are backed," she said.

Gildear
also called for more industry-focused, vocational qualifications and foundation
degrees that could feed into national education targets.

"We
want foundation degrees for people of any age that could be completed while
still at work. We’re hoping targets for national education can be integrated
into the workforce," she added.

Media

The
BBC’s head of training, Nigel Paine, wants clarification on the training
responsibility for freelance staff, and hopes the White Paper will foster a
culture of lifelong learning and employability. "We need more help on the
role of employers in training these staff and how we can best influence
that," he said.

He
also praised SSCs for unifying employers and giving them a single voice on
training.

Paine
said it was crucial that training keeps step with advances in new technology
because of the rapid rate of changes in the sector.

He
hopes the strategy will also draw closer links between higher education and
vocational training, with a co-ordinated approach to knowledge and job-based
learning.

www.dfes.gov.uk

www.personneltoday.com/features
 to find out How organisations are
tackling the skills gap

Comments are closed.