Talking might help ease the skills crisis

The industry should be talking more to educational institutions to make sure they get the skilled staff they are looking for

The skills crisis continues to be a worry to employers, business groups and educational institutions expected to deliver the next generation of workers with concerns that failing to tackle it will undermine future growth prospects.

There have been several steps taken over the past few years to try and ease the problem and key among them is the apprenticeships scheme so beloved of the Prime Minister.

Throughout all of the discussions about skills one of the constant themes has been for the need for better communication between employers and trainers. It appears that on that front there is still more work to be done with some of those involved with tackling the issue worried that there is not enough input from the industry.

Last month a report from CBI and Pearson Education and Skills warned that two thirds of businesses exopected their demand for workers with higher skills would increase sharply but more than half did not think they would be able to get the trained workers they wanted.

"If we want jobs and prosperity to keep on growing, we cannot afford to let the shortcomings of our education and skills systems drag us down. The danger is very real," said Katja Hall, deputy director-general at the CBI.

That recruitment gap threatens the recovery, future growth and the ability of the UK to compete on a global platform against competitors.

“There is a conundrum at the heart of the UK’s skills shortage,” said David Holland, CEO of the learning specialist Instructus Group.

“There is a broad political consensus that skills development should be aligned with the needs of business and society. However, very little is actually being done to open communication channels and bring about constructive change,” he added.

One of the answers that Holland suggested is for conferences to be established that will give HR professionals the chance to talk directly to skill focused bodies and educational institutions.

“The results of last month’s CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey expose the extent of the skills emergency in the UK,” said Holland. “If the UK is to remain a leading economy, all sectors need to acknowledge this crisis, pool knowledge and align goals through conferences, joint projects and other forms of dialogue.”

One of the areas where concerns about skills was recently highlighted was in cyber security and there are worries that the few candidates that do make it through to the job market with the right qualifications are snapped up by larger enterprises leaving the SMEs struggling.

But when it comes to getting an answer to the problem the focus always shifts back to education and the lessons taught in schools and colleges.

In response to a Lieberman survey showing a shortage of skilled IT professionals Amichai Schulman, CTO of Imperva, said that the education system had to provide more of the answers.

“The skills shortage is a long-term challenge facing the cyber security industry, one that needs to be addressed in the education system.  We need to provide education about computers and security technology at an early age, and then partner with universities and technical schools to offer curricula to build this skill set within the population. In the meantime, providing professional education and development within a company and to interested employees is something companies should consider for investment.,” said Schulman.

Some of the problems experienced in the cyber security world are echoed elsewhere with the speed of change cited as one of the main challenges.

“The dramatic increase in data breaches over the last few years has led to a demand within organisations to employ skilled IT security staff. However many companies have struggled to find staff who are competent enough to defend against the type of sophisticated cyber attacks we are frequently seeing today,” said Philip Lieberman, CEO and President of Lieberman Software.  

The tension between the demands of the IT industry and the educational institutions is set to continue as many employers now look for the finished article rather than taking on board a graduate and molding them into what they need.

Holland is banging the drum on behalf of a conference his firm is involved with in November but the wider point about the need for improved communication is one that more in the channel should take on board if they want to get better skilled staff coming into their interview rooms.

See the August MicroScope ezine for more coverage of the IT skills issue

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