Sector skills councils: A view to a skill

Most employers, at some point, experience difficulties recruiting staff with the right skills. Some suffer from acute skills shortages all the time.

Such shortages have a knock-on effect on productivity and profitability, which is why the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) were created.

They are a network of 25 employer-led organisations covering different industry sectors, from financial services to health and social care. The Skills for Business network is the umbrella organisation. The councils are overseen and funded by the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA), also part of the Skills for Business network.

The councils’ key aims are:

  • to reduce skills gaps and shortages.
  • to improve productivity, business and public service performance.
  • to increase opportunities to boost the skills and productivity of each sector’s workforce.
  • to improve learning opportunities, such as apprenticeships, higher education and national occupational standards.

The councils work with employers and education providers to identify shortages and take steps to fill them. They also work with the government’s Learning and Skills Council, higher and further education funding bodies, standards and qualifications organisations, trade unions and the government.

Mark Fisher, SSDA chief executive, says training and HR professionals should be working with their relevant sector skills council to ensure their needs are being met. “The network is the voice of employers on skills. We can influence the way skills are demanded and delivered across the UK,” he says.

Making a difference

One council that claims to have made a real difference to the provision of skills in its sector is E-Skills UK, which is the sector skills council for IT and telecoms. It provides advice and research, and offers a skills analysis service to employers.

“Skills assessment is critical to improve productivity, recruitment and to develop staff,” says Karen Price, chief executive of E-Skills UK. “That is why we have developed a series of programmes that aim to simplify the diagnosis of skills needs and address these issues.”

One such programme is the E-Skills passport. This is an online tool to help individuals and training managers assess the provision of IT skills in their organisations, identify gaps and set learning targets. Price says HR and training professionals value assistance with auditing the IT skills their organisation has, the skills needed and what all the terms mean.

“Many employers are daunted by the prospect of skills assessment in IT professional roles,” says Price. “This is particularly true when the training manager may not come from an IT background.”

E-Skills UK will publish its first issue of the E-Skills UK Training and Development Guide this month. “Aimed at training managers, it aims to demystify the complexities of government funding by highlighting funded or subsidised IT training,” says Price.

Subsidised or free training is naturally something that every training manager is interested in. Each SSC differs in its provision of such training, so it is a case of contacting your relevant council to see what is on offer. But Fisher stresses that providing subsidised training is not a core SSC activity. Their work is more about engaging with employers to change the way skills are delivered across each sector.

The 25 SSCs cover about 85% of the workforce, but the network does work with relevant professional bodies to provide assistance to those industries not directly supported by a council. A full list of sectors that are covered can be found on the SSDA website at
All councils had to undergo a rigorous process to become established and receive their licence from the government. The SSDA is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the performance of the councils on a regular basis.

Each council is expected to continually assess the services it provides and come up with new initiatives to improve the provision of skills – such as E-Skills UK’s new guide for training managers.

Case study: Skillset

Skillset, the SSC for the audio visual industry, helps HR and training managers in its sector through occupational standards. These give the competencies for each job and – along with job profiles – can help HR managers write job descriptions, recruit, appraise and set developmental objectives for staff.

Skillset’s website is a source of information about the industry and includes careers advice and information on training courses.

It runs several schemes designed to help employees and freelances, such as offering discounted short course training. For example, current projects include an 80% discount for London employees, bursaries for film professionals and an industry induction programme for junior/entry level staff. It also conducts research which includes an annual census and workforce survey, including training needs.

Skillset says it consistently consults employers in the sector and runs many industry panels and forums.

Further information on the councils:

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