Skills shortage could hamper economic recovery

June 17, 2009

andy-powellAndy Powell is the CEO of Edge, an independent education foundation dedicated to raising the status of practical and vocational learning. Edge is leading the education and business communities in the second annual celebration of vocational qualifications, VQ Day (Vocational Qualifications Day), on 24 June 2009. The opinions expressed are his own. –

It’s a challenging time to be running a small or medium enterprise (SME). Despite talk of “green shoots” the unemployment figures out today paint a fairly dim picture, with the prospect of a worsening scenario in September and tough prospects for graduates and school leavers this summer.

We are in one of the most turbulent economic and political periods of recent times and to emerge from the downturn we are going to need people full of creativity, innovation and talent. Yet research released today by education foundation Edge reveals that three-quarters of SME bosses feel there is a mis-match between young people’s skills and the requirements of their organisation.

This research is reinforced by the Confederation of British Industry, which this week reported a skills shortage in London that could hamper economic recovery. The research stated that the hardest hit sectors were transport, energy/manufacturing/construction and hospitality/leisure/retail. With rising unemployment figures, why do we still have skills shortages in industries that are key to us emerging from the downturn?

Edge believes part of the problem lies in an education system that, on the whole, has stood still for too long and has not developed in line with changing business needs. This top-down, one-size-fits-all system places young people on a learning conveyor belt, leaving them ill-prepared for the world of work. We need to encourage young people to discover who they are and want to be in life, developing determination, initiative and self-knowledge. These attributes cannot be learned by academic study alone – they require learning by doing.

Vocational and practical learning offers a way of achieving these aims. SMEs say that new employees with vocational qualifications are better developed than recruits with academic qualifications in the vital areas of team working, business and customer awareness, attitude and enthusiasm, and self-management. 71 percent believe the job market contains too few people with vocational qualifications and practical skills, and two thirds believe every young person should study at least one vocational qualification at school. So why aren’t more young people given the opportunity to take a vocational qualification in school?

Many SMEs are feeling the pinch of the recession and want to make sure their workforce is operating at an optimum level. They don’t want to have to train recruits in the basics; they want them work-ready.

There are many paths to success and we know that an education involving practical and vocational learning prepares young people for the varied world of work and adult life. It nurtures cognitive thinking and helps develop enterprise, originality and self-knowledge to succeed – qualities the UK needs now more than ever. So, it’s time for a revolution in education, putting this approach at the heart of our system to ensure our young people get the chance to discover their talents and have the right kind of training to meet the needs of businesses. This will help the UK accelerate out of the recession and continue to compete on a global level.


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The problem with the employment market today, as I see it, is employers are looking for a free lunch. They want fully qualified, fully trained and experienced candidates for their job vacancies, but if these people are available they were trained elsewhere and are probably working elsewhere. So they are trying to poach them from other companies, or hoping that the education system will throw up the right type of candidate. But the education system is unable to do this, the problem is that companies are unwilling and unable to shoulder the responsibility of training individuals who can then be stolen from them by companies that do not have the same training overheads. Well maybe it is time to legislate to try to bring an end to this sorry state of affairs. If it were possible for laws to be introduced that compelled companies to train their own staff and enabled them to be able to retain them and tie them down to long term contracts, so that a perhaps a system might develop along the lines of football transfers, to allow people to move between companies mid contract. Look at what we have now vast HR departments, proliferating employment agencies, high unemployment, high training costs, free market in employment and a skills shortage. Do we not need a way to control the problem? Well I say legislate for the future of our children and create a climate of job security and continuous improvement and training for all by all employers, funded by income tax and government subsidies, and build a bridge between education and industry, together with firm employment laws to prevent poaching and to fully compensate for the cost of training. Let us work with what we have and try and improve it, we are supposed to be a nation of innovators. Aren’t we?.

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To read more of Andy Powell’s blogs, go to

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Teachers, learners, employers, mentors, supervisors, personal tutors, and so on, are empowered to work together efficiently albeit at a distance, asynchronously and whilst move or on-the-job training, to collectively develop, deliver and evaluate the desired learning and skills.

Blackboard’s innovation around people-oriented technologies based on an open architecture, facilitates and empowers the many stakeholders and decision-makers involved in education, vocational and professional skills delivery and acquisition to collaborate with each other online in the most flexible and timely way.

A continual conversation during the entire cycle of the development, delivery and evaluation of the learning experience between all the key stakeholders, means that the learning outcomes are going to be the right ones. The evaluation of the learning experience that will feed into the continual re-development and improvement process is the key to ensuring that the necessary and appropriate learning and skills are being delivered to bridge the skills gap. Here again, Blackboard’s innovation in incorporating the evaluation of learning into the e-education framework will make a big impact in helping organizations to work together to evaluate and make continual changes / enhancements to both what needs to be taught/learnt and how this is delivered/acquired to best effect.

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