3 ways your business might be contributing to the UK's skills shortage
And how new research from CMI may have the answer to the problemJermaine Haughton
Employers are increasingly unable to find people with the skills or knowledge to fill jobs.
In fact, the latest UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report found that the number of positions left vacant because employers cannot find qualified people to fill them has more than doubled in the last four years.
With so-called skills shortage vacancies now making up nearly one in four of all job listings, a lack of quality personnel in key industries such as construction, high technology and digital poses a serious threat to the economy.
But while the government must take a share of the blame for the predicament as many British businesses bemoan the quality of school leavers and graduates entering the workplace, some businesses are also liable.
The Chartered Management Institute’s report An Age of Uncertainty: Young people’s views on the challenges of getting into work in 21st century Britain identified three ways some employers have failed to fill the gap caused by the skills shortage: a shortfall in work experience placements offered to career starters, the lack of importance placed on the extracurricular activities of young people, and the dearth in youth mentoring.
Employers need to connect with local students
One of the findings of the CMI study was that young people entering the workplace either now, or in the coming years, are keen to gain professional experience to prepare them for full-time employment.
In particular, the survey showed that young people seemed to know that they need to learn the practical skills that will enable them to achieve their leadership and management aspirations.
The majority of young people think that organisational skills (68%) and communication skills (65%) are very important to employers when deciding who to hire, and this is in line with previous CMI studies that show that three out of the top four key skills that employers are looking for in new managers are people-management skills, with communication ranked as the most important skill by 67% of employers.
However, there is a gap in providing young people with information and pathways in which they can attain these sought-after skills.
A 21 year old female respondent said: “There is a disconnect between schools and the employment market. Schools do not give young people the chance to learn the skills they need in the current job market. Yet, they are expected to demonstrate them once they enter work.
“To bridge that gap there is an increasing expectation on young people to build these skills in their free time.”
Therefore, employers may need to step into to provide more opportunities for young people to develop and apply these skills both in school and when participating in workplace experiences.
This could include partnering with schools and offering workshops, ‘enterprise days’, and work experience placements.
Extracurricular activities are important
With this disconnect making it challenging for young people to gain vital people-management abilities at school, employers can better promote and encourage young people to build these skills through extra-curricular activities.
Whether it as a member of the local football team on Sunday’s or taking part in performing arts at a community theatre or dramatics group, the value of interacting and expressing themselves in these often passion-driven pursuits is a fantastic way for young people to develop many of the skills that employers seek.
The CMI survey found young people do not ascribe much importance to their extra-curricular activities, however, suggesting they do not see them as a means of learning valuable skills that will impress employers.
Two in five young people consider volunteer work or social action as unimportant to employers when deciding who to hire, while almost two-thirds think the same of common extra-curricular schemes.
A possible solution to this issue is for small and large employers to make extra-circular activities a major requirement for candidates applying for their job vacancies, and some companies are already leading the way in doing this.
Michelle Murray, apprentice programme manager at ScotRail, highlighted their use of competency-based questions when interviewing young people for apprenticeship places, recognising the need to get beyond the academic record to understand young people’s potential.
“We want to find out as much as possible about the candidate – most questions are competency-based to spot the raw potential,” he said. “‘Do you volunteer?’ ‘When have you worked in a team?’ ‘Are you part of a sports team?’”
Provide mentoring to potential young stars
Over the past decade, mentoring programmes have become a key management programme to help develop employees and build their careers within an organisation, and the CMI survey suggests more of such schemes are also needed to develop young people entering the workforce.
Mentors can be very valuable to aspiring workers in demonstrating how tasks are undertaken or how problems are solved, answering questions, and interacting with mentees, who may otherwise feel isolated and confused.
It is also a great chance for employers to promote the great work and culture of their business, as well as develop a future young leader for their own vacancies.
The CMI report also found that mentoring is in high demand from young people, but only a small minority (13%) have been supported by a mentor, but a majority (70%) still believe that having a mentor would help them to understand their options when leaving school.
Employers can make a concerted effort to help solve this gap by making mentorship a key part of their work experience and internship placements.
More than half (54%) of those who had completed work experience or an internship were not given a mentor or a buddy, meaning that employers have a prime opportunity to help develop these young people, and make themselves an attractive company to work for in the process.