The development of logistics, digital and engineering skills needs attention now. This is the stark warning coming from the business-led group tasked by central government with helping resolve the mismatch of local skills attainment and employer skills needs.
With the focus still very much on supporting economic recovery, there’s good news and difficult news for this area. Job vacancies in the local logistics and supply chain sector are up as much as 56%, compared to March 2020. This is driven by changes in consumer and business demand, as well as the UK’s exit from the EU. But whilst employment opportunities are growing fast, attracting people with the right knowledge, experience and skills is an increasing challenge. Many sectors, including manufacturing, engineering, construction and hospitality, also report widespread shortages of people who meet the job specifications for the most badly needed roles.
There’s been a significant boost for digital occupations within businesses, leading to a 27% jump in vacancies. Much is being done locally to accelerate the development of digital skills and grow talent within this area. This includes high-level apprenticeship courses for up to 500 students through MK:U, led by Cranfield University, and the newly-opened Northampton College Digital Skills Academy, South-Central Institute of Technology in Milton Keynes and local programmes such as the Skills Hub:MK. However, the Skills Advisory Panel at SEMLEP, which is responsible for bringing this economic analysis together, has highlighted the need to increase the pipeline of individuals training in software development, programming, related engineering and computer support specialisms. These are all firmly on the skills action list.
Other good news for the area includes skills development opportunities in the construction sector, such as the Modern Methods of Construction Facility at Bedford College and the Advanced Construction Test and Training Centre at Northampton College. The challenge here is getting enough people through the employer-designed courses. Job vacancy analysis in the same period (March 2020 to November 2021) for the construction occupational group shows job opportunities were up 24%.
Employers know and tell us what they need
The skills analysis was commissioned by the Department for Education. The government department provides grant funding to the Local Enterprise Partnership, SEMLEP, to bring together business leaders, schools, colleges, universities, training providers, local councils and other groups responsible for skills development and promoting economic growth.
Working together, this group is tasked with setting out the status of employment-relevant skills in the area, attainment levels and the needs of employers, together with an action plan to resolve skills mismatches to support growth in our local economies. The latest skills analysis was published in the South East Midlands Local Skills Plan on January 28.
What’s next for those on the action list?
With the skills challenges for economic recovery firmly identified, now is the time to take coordinated action to support local business growth for 2022, and limit any negative impact caused by the skills gap. Three highlighted recommendations include:
- A boost in employer engagement with education providers to inform course content, keeping it relevant to their needs. This is essential to respond to and capitalise on the increasing pace of digitalisation, a shift towards net zero and changing business and consumer trends.
- Force a fundamental shift in how we support, develop and talk about the core skills, attitudes and behaviours needed by employers, alongside technical and practical skills. Let’s move the dial on what we previously referred to as ‘soft’ skills, and power these up!
- Promote all the different pathways into employment in growth occupational groups and sectors, raising the profile of opportunities, including learning new skills to take on new roles or reskilling in areas that have the greatest opportunity.
There are already multiple initiatives available that help employers, skills providers and others to come together to collaborate. Key to this is developing the pipeline of people inspired to and capable of working in those occupations where we have the most need and make the most of the opportunities open to them.
If we as a business community do nothing, then we can expect nothing to change. There have never been so many opportunities to get involved and take action, so now is the perfect time to do your part to help develop the talent you and your company will need for the future.