Skills shortage could hamper economic recovery

June 17, 2009

andy-powell- Andy 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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