Magazine article Management Today

Advertising Feature: Training and Skills - Skills Take Priority

Magazine article Management Today

Advertising Feature: Training and Skills - Skills Take Priority

Article excerpt

British business is being hobbled by an acute lack of skills among employees. An intensive drive is under way to resolve the crisis. Text by Stefan Stern.

For British business these are the best of times and the worst of times. The numbers don't lie: fourth-biggest economy in the world, lowest unemployment for a generation (and record levels of employment), low inflation and stable interest rates. What is there to worry about? Plenty.

And here, too, the numbers don't lie. 'Working Futures', the largest-ever prediction of the future of the UK's labour market, shows a skills timebomb on the horizon. Commissioned by the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) last year, the three-volume report shows that, by 2012, Britain will need 1.4 million more professional and technical workers. But 400,000 lower-skilled secretarial and administrative jobs will be lost - many replaced by smarter IT. Can British business find these new skilled workers?

More than a fifth of employers say the skills of their workforce are not up to scratch. One in 10 staff members are less competent than their employers would like (that's 2.4 million workers). As many as 135,000 jobs - a fifth of all vacancies - cannot be filled because of a shortage of skills. An underskilled workforce is the cause of rising costs, and damages the bottom line among 30% of employers. More than a third of businesses have delayed new projects because 'they cannot get the staff', according to data from the Learning & Skills Council's 'National Employers Skills' survey, co-funded by the SSDA and published in February. Weaknesses in the British workforce affect all businesses. Unproductive, underperforming staff undermine supply chains and jeopardise customer relationships. Competition, emerging all the time from the fast-developing Asian economies, threatens to undercut the most well-established businesses. Even where order books seem healthy and medium-term prospects look good, complacency is not an option for any employer.

So is British business ready for the challenges ahead? We do not lack encouragement from political leaders to improve the nation's skills base.

At the recent international Advancing Enterprise summit in London, Chancellor Gordon Brown identified skills improvement as one of the greatest priorities facing the British economy. …

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