Not skills again?! Our CEO talks skills shortage

Posted 07.07.15 in News

In his latest blog post, Space Group’s Chief Executive Rob Charlton discusses his attendance at an inspiring set of events, with the topic of a skills shortage once again a hot topic in both.

I recently attended a great event in the North East called Dynamo. This is an industry-led initiative focusing on growing the tech sector in the region and building the North East’s enterprise IT cluster to achieve national and international recognition for excellence in delivering IT software and services.

As with many of these types of events, one of the key issues raised was that of skills shortages. As somebody who has heard this issue mentioned many times in the construction industry, it was comforting to hear that other industries face the same challenges. However it is also a point of concern for the construction industry as it is clear we are competing with so many others. This week I attended another event at the new University Technical College in Burnley to talk about women in construction. Yet again, the same issues around skills were raised.

What has become very clear to me is that whether it is the IT sector or construction, there is definitely commitment from these industries to assist in the development of skills for young people. However, one issue is raised every time – we hear that schools are difficult to engage with and consistently say that they do not have the time to work with businesses. At the same time, businesses are clear in saying that many of the young people who are joining their organisations are not ready for work.

Then we hear from the young people themselves who tell us that the careers advice they are given is woefully inadequate and points them in the wrong direction. Often careers advisors within schools default to stereotypes such as plastering or hairdressing and this can be very dangerous. We are also discovering that careers advice is far behind where the industry is. For example, construction is moving at such a rapid pace is it difficult for any careers advisor to have a detailed understanding of the current opportunities available.

A personal frustration for me is when we find ourselves continually debating the skills issue but do not make any actual effort to change the norm. The current Government have a clear view of how we should teach our young people. There will be a focus on subject-based learning which is assessed through examinations. Being realistic, this is not going to change things in the short-term so we have to find alternative ways to improve things. Young people need to develop great communication skills and to learn to work as part of a team to solve problems. Creativity and innovation are core skills that need to be developed if we are going to compete on a world stage. It is unlikely that schools en masse will be able to change quickly and engage with the business world, however getting the best young people into our businesses is absolutely essential for sustainable success.

I would propose that businesses will have to take the lead and will have to promote what their industry can offer.

  • We need to make sure that we market ourselves in places where young people are such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • We need to encourage young people to get experience in our businesses to get a real feel for what work is about.
  • We need to develop programmes which give young people a good overview of our industry and the opportunities that lie within it.
  • We need to establish industry based careers days where young people can get that advice and a clear understanding of what is possible.

There will certainly be some schools with which we can engage and this should be encouraged wherever possible.

There is a belief from many parents that it is essential that their son or daughter has to obtain a degree to achieve in industry. I no longer believe that this is the case and from our own perspective as a business, we have found vocational learning over a longer period of time through apprenticeships to be of far greater value to us. There of course is a need for academic classroom-based learning however for the best results, this needs to be blended with work-based learning.

It is clear that the UK is falling behind the rest of the world with our productivity and skills. We are currently sitting at 13th in the world when it comes to productivity, which is of real concern. The ideas of engagement driven by industry will be a short-term fix. The longer term issue and the more difficult one to resolve is the fact that our schools are teaching our young people the wrong things for the future and our children are therefore ill-prepared for a future in industry.

Schools can no longer continue to believe that they are preparing young people for the 21st century. Everything about our current education system needs to be fundamentally rethought if we are going to compete at a global level. Unfortunately the first step is for governors, parents and teachers to realise we have a problem but any change in education is politically toxic and if I am being pragmatic I can’t see any radical change in my life time.

It is therefore down to the industry to shape, change and provide great opportunities for young people as soon as possible.

Make sure to follow Rob on Twitter by clicking here.

You can also view his previous blog posts that we have featured here and here.