How organisations are tackling the skills gap

Nathalie
Towner looks at the various models being adopted by organisations to help plug
skills gaps.  

Productivity
problems

The
UK lags way behind the US, Germany and France when it comes to productivity
according to data produced by the Office for National Statistics last year, and
one of the key factors behind this is the current skills shortage.

There
has been no lack of initiatives, but in an attempt to ensure the right skills
are being provided for industry, the Government is finally talking to the
people who know what is needed – the employers.

The
Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) was set up in 2002 to deliver skills
for business. This is actually done through industry-specific Sector Skills
Councils (SSCs), which are overseen by the SSDA. HR professionals will become
very familiar with the councils as they will be speaking to employers of all
sizes to help meet current and emerging skill and productivity needs in their
respective sectors.

Many
SSCs are still in development, but there are expected to be around 23 covering
95 per cent of the workforce by 2004.

Michael
Stark, head of skills and workforce development at the Learning and Skills
Council (LSC) – the largest adult learning agency – welcomes the employer-led
approach, and believes their input is essential if dramatic improvements are to
be achieved.

“Our
core aim is to drive up the engagement of employers,” he explains. “We need to
make the link between employers and productivity. They need to buy into the
publicly-funded system on offer as this is the best way to train the
workforce.”

According
to Stark, promoting increased learning is a key part of tackling the skills
shortage.

“We
need to change the habits of each sector,” he says. “In other countries,
employees have licences to operate so they have to gain the necessary skills.
We are seeking to do this here.”

SSCs
will be promoting the development of learning frameworks in their sectors and
providing sector-specific information to the LSC.

A
thoroughly modern approach

The
Modern Apprentice scheme is one such initiative geared towards boosting the
skills of 16 to 24-year-olds by helping them gain vocational qualifications as
well as on-the-job training.   

One
organisation to benefit is Taunton-based electricity distributor Western Power.

During
the economic downturn of the late 1980s and early 1990s, recruitment at the
company ground to a halt and the apprentices disappeared.

"We
had an ageing, decreasing workforce, and it was clear that we needed to do
something for the future if we were going to make-up for this missing
generation," says the company’s training support manager Bob Fox.

And
since 1998, the company has been recruiting new staff through the modern
apprenticeship scheme.  

Western
Power requires highly-skilled craftspeople such as electrical fitters, cable
jointers and linesmen, and cannot easily find these skills on the general
market in the numbers needed and in the right places. According to Fox, setting
up the scheme was imperative to gaining new employees.

"To
instigate the whole programme, we had to find a suitable mentor for each
apprentice and at least one assessor in each depot,” he says. “They then had to
be trained and an internal verification process had to be set up."

It
began with just 12 new recruits, but five years on, 77 apprentices have either
qualified or are in the system and only four are no longer with the company.

"The
retention rate is high – partly because the skills they are learning are
specific to this industry, but also because they all joined us as employees,
and  have been able to get the job they
wanted through the training," says Fox.

Over
the course of their apprenticeship, new staff work to achieve a National
Vocational Qualification (NVQ), a technical certificate and key skills
certification.

"These
apprentices will become managers in 10 years time. We have to recruit in this
way as these people don’t exist out of our industry, but through this scheme,
we have got young craftsmen back in the industry," says Fox.

Building
solid foundations

Rolls-Royce
has a long history of employing apprentices, but it is currently working on a
new qualification that will take this scheme one step further. The foundation
degrees (FDs) will target apprentices going onto NVQ level 4. The qualification
is designed to enable people leaving full-time education and those in work to
acquire higher-level knowledge and skills.

Graham
Schuhmacher, head of learning operations at Rolls-Royce, is working closely
with SEMTA, the skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing, to
make it as relevant as possible.

“We’re
working with all of our business units to see what the future requirements will
be, so that we can then deliver the right people when we need them,” he explains.
“We’re asking the operations directors to imagine what life will be like in 10
years’ time.”

As
the foundation degree is still under development, Rolls-Royce has been given
the opportunity to design a course that is specific to their needs, but which other
companies could use if they wished to.

“We’ve
been working with Derby college to design the content, and if we get approval
we’re hoping to launch the foundation degree next September for up 12
apprentices,” Scumacher says.

Students
who obtain their foundation degrees will be able to go onto a whole range of
technical roles for which the FD or an equivalent qualification will become a
necessary requirement.

Margaret
Gildea, director of learning and career development for Rolls-Royce, has
particularly welcomed the partnership with the skills council.

“The
thing that has impressed us most is that it is employer-led,” she says. “Semta
has been very effective at considering the skills needed 10 years ahead, and
we’ve been able to have lots of input in refining the qualifications.”

Targeting
low-skilled staff will also be a key challenge faced by skills councils. CBI
research shows that across the country, nearly a third of firms are expecting
to recruit fewer people without qualifications during the next three years, but
more than 11 million people of working age are not qualified to NVQ level 2,
and 20 per cent lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Employer
training pilot

In
September 2002, the Government and the LSC launched the employer training pilot
(ETP) to encourage employers to train low skilled staff.

Erewash
Council in Derbyshire has more than 30 staff working towards NVQ levels 1 and 2
as part of the scheme.

"We’ve
been involved in the pilot since it was launched last August," says senior
HR officer Mike Lee. "There are people in refuse and street cleaning who
are on the valuable skills project and studying basic skills, and others in
finance and development services administration, who are working towards
business administration and customer services NVQs at level 2."

According
to Lee, the scheme has been well received by workers who in the past had felt
they had been overlooked.

"Managers,
supervisors and team leaders are offered all sorts of training opportunities.
The vast majority of employees don’t fall into this area, but they are just as
important," he explains.

"NVQs
are ideal for codifying their jobs. There is not much available for operatives,
but the NVQ is a substantial developmental qualification that fills in the gaps
and gives the employees a real sense of achievement."

Staff
are given half a day a week on average for basic skills study, and this is
complemented by mentors coming into the workplace to offer guidance and
on-the-job assessments.

"The
mentor working with the finance department is from our local further education
(FE) college and comes in every two or three weeks to spend up to 40 minutes
with each person. The refuse collecting and street cleaning staff get a visit
once a month from a waste management specialist."

The
FE colleges also take on the administrative burden of running the courses so
the employer only needs to focus on organising people’s time-off.

Lee
hopes the pilot is the beginning of a substantial programme. "At the
moment this scheme is just an option for staff, but I want to introduce it as
an essential part of the job so that we have a systemised training programme."

Useful
contacts

Sector
Skills Development Agency
www.ssda.org.uk

To
find a full list of all the licensed sector skills agencies go to:
http://www.ssda.org.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/ssc/list_ssc.html

Learning
and Skills Council
www.lsc.gov.uk
tel 0845 019 4170
fax 024 76 49 3600

Information
on modern apprenticeships
https://www.realworkrealpay.info/lsc/default

How
the Sector Skills Councils work?

Sector
Skills Councils (SSCs) are employer-led organisations working to reduce skills
shortfalls and improve productivity. As the various SSCs become more
established, they will be in close contact with HR professionals who will be
key in helping them understand the emerging skill and productivity needs in
their respective sectors.

The
Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) is the body that regulates the SSCs,
and stands in for sectors where a council has not yet been set up.

Why
was the SSDA set up and what did it replace?

The
SSDA was established to set up a new UK-wide network of employer-led Sector
Skills Councils which would deliver sustained improvements in public and
private sector productivity and competitiveness through the better use and
development of people’s skills. This network of SSCs and the SSDA is called
‘Skills for Business’.

SSCs
are much stronger, more strategic organisations licensed by the Government.
They replace the previous network of 72 National Training Organisations, which
had recognition withdrawn on 31 March 2002.

What
targets is it working towards?

A
network of some 23 or so SSCs covering around 95 per cent of the UK workforce.

As
a result of an SSC’s work, employers and Government will expect to see the
adoption of better workforce development practices by an increasing number of
employers. The Government will also expect more training for a wider group of
people in the sector’s workforce, and better quality training for people in the
sector.

What
is the SSDA’s relationship to the various sector skills councils?

The
SSDA actively supports SSCs to develop their own capacity to shape and
influence change on behalf of their sectors. 
It ensures the standards set down for becoming an SSC are rigorously
adhered to.

Is
there a maximum target for the number of skills councils? If so, what is it and
when is this expected to be achieved by?

There
are expected to be around 23 SSCs licenced or in the final stages of licensing
by the end of March 2004. There is no official maximum number of possible SSCs,
although as each will represent a nationally important sector, there will be
limited possibilities.

The
Sector Skills Councils

SSCs
are funded by the SSDA by up to £1m a year. Organisations wishing to become
sector skills councils must go through three stages of development:


Five-year licences

The
first full five-year licences were issued this April by the secretary of state
for education and skills. They were awarded to E-skills, which covers
information technology, telecommunications and contact centres, and to Semta,
which is responsible for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies.


Trailblazers

The
Trailblazer Sector Skills Councils are provisionally licensed for two years,
and are currently working towards gaining a five-year licence.  (contact details listed below)


In development

There
are also currently 13 sector bodies working towards SSC status ranging from
passenger transport and the justice system, to mechanical and electrical
services. Some are well-established bodies, such as the construction sector’s
CITB. Others are being set up from scratch.

SSCs
in development have to compile a market assessment of the essential skills and
productivity needs of their sector.

Five
year licences

E-skills
It covers the information technology, telecommunications and contact centre
sectors.
020 7963 8920
www.e-skills.com

Semta

It covers the science, engineering and manufacturing technology sectors.
020 7222 0464
www.semta.org.uk

TRAILBLAZERS

Skillset
For the audio visual industries
020 7520 5757
www.skillset.org

Lantra
For the environmental and land-based sector
024 7669 6996
www.lantra.co.uk

Cogent
For the oil and gas extraction, chemicals manufacturing and petroleum
industries
01224 787800
www.cogent-ssc.com

Skillfast-UK
For the apparel, footwear and textiles industry
0113 227 3333
www.skillfast-uk.org

Skillsmart
For the retail sector
020 7854 8900
http://www.brc.org.uk/Skillsmart/Skillsmart.asp

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