The UK is experiencing a severe skills shortage. The Open University Business Barometer 2021 found that two-thirds (63%) of companies are struggling to recruit candidates with the right skills, and a quarter (24%) see finding the right employees as the biggest challenge facing their organisation. This skills shortage is doing a lot of damage to the economy, a a report by the Institute for Learning and Work it is estimated that by 2030 this could put £120bn of economic value at risk.
There are a number of reasons why the UK faces such a skills gap; covid and brexit are key factors, but it is also driven by the acceleration of technology. The speed at which technology is advancing is affecting virtually every industry, and the necessary work experience and skills employers are looking for are changing and evolving at an unprecedented rate. Research by Gartner found that more than half (58%) of the workforce will need new skills to continue to do their jobs successfully, and identified that the skills listed in the average 2017 IT, finance and sales job ad are already outdated .
“More than half (58%) of the workforce will need new skills to continue to be successful in their jobs”
Higher and further education is struggling to keep up with the pace of change. What’s relevant on a course one year can be out of date the next, and increasing numbers of students are leaving universities, adult colleges and courses run by independent training providers (ITPs) ill-prepared for the world of work.
The current situation is hurting both the business and the generation of potential employees. Too few candidates entering the job market with the right skills means businesses face longer and more expensive recruitment processes. According to estimates, it will cost companies an average of 3000 pounds for each new hire, with time to find the “right” candidate 42 days. That’s a big chunk of money and time eating into a business’ bottom line, and that’s without counting the money and time spent onboarding new employees.
We need to create a system where potential employees leave HE, FE and ITP courses with the necessary competencies that employers are looking for. Thereby increasing employment opportunities for people and drastically reducing the costs of enterprises for hiring and training personnel.
So how can HE and FE providers better respond to what businesses need to address this challenge?
Business involvement from the start
As managing director of iconoClass UK, I see one of the aspects that sets our business course apart from many other HE and FE providers is that we work directly with brands and high-growth technology start-ups looking to hire new talent. Our partner companies conduct practical sessions with students, so candidates get the exact skills these organizations are looking for, while organizations have the opportunity to identify new talent and offer these students jobs.
Simon Proust, Head of Sales at SumUP, one of the iconoClass partner companies, said:
“The hands-on nature of the iconoClass program perfectly prepares students for customer-facing sales. Our collaboration has become an integral part of our recruitment process. So much so that 50% of our workforce now comes from this boot camp.”
Learning directly with businesses also gives students the opportunity to get a real taste of what it would be like to work in certain organizations, allowing them to make fully informed decisions about the companies and industries they would like to work in in the future. This, in turn, increases retention rates in businesses, as people are less likely to leave a new position if it’s a job they already know they want.
In order to meet the needs of students and businesses, it is necessary to pay more attention to cooperation between institutions of higher and economic education and the private sector. Professionals in leadership positions on course programs need to be consulted to ensure that what students learn directly prepares them for the workplace, and HE and FE providers need to do more to connect students with the organizations they want to hire.
Boot camps offer a quick fix
The urgent need to address skills shortages means businesses need employees with the right experience now, not three years after they graduate. Even highly desirable sectors such as technology are struggling with skills shortages that have hit “all time high”. In many areas, demand exceeds supply; in 2021 there were more IT jobs are advertised online than the entire British business in the previous year.
“In many industries, demand exceeds supply; in 2021 there were more IT jobs are advertised online than the entire British business in the previous year.’
To help solve this problem, HE and FE should offer courses that quickly train people in the skills that businesses are looking for. In my last one article for FE News, I discussed the benefits of short courses that condense an intensive program of study into months rather than years. Shorter courses are more beneficial not only for students who can upgrade their skills and enter the workplace faster, but also for businesses who can hire new recruits armed with fresh knowledge and experience.
The need for recruits with recent experience is one of the reasons we’ve seen a surge in the number of boot camps in recent years. Bootcamps allow students to quickly gain practical know-how in a specific field through full immersion in an intensive course taught by experts. They’re especially popular in the tech world in fields like coding and data science, but their success has spread to other fields like marketing and beauty.
Many tech companies hire directly from bootcamps, after analyzing the 24 best coding bootcamps, they found that 71.4% students found employment in industry within 180 days. Moreover, the 2021 study shows that 6.03% of the Big Five employees came from boot camps. And many boot camp providers, including iconoClass, are so confident in the quality of their training that they offer a job guarantee or your money back.
“Many tech companies hire directly from bootcamps, after analyzing the top 24 coding bootcamps, we found that 71.4% students found employment in industry within 180 days.”
Individual business trainings
Bootcamps are great for those out of work or looking to change careers, but the intensive nature of the courses means they aren’t always suitable for candidates who are already in work. Upskilling people already in the workplace is critical to closing the skills gap, especially given that 1 in 4 employees feel that they have not received adequate training to do their jobs properly.
“Upskilling those already in the workplace is critical to closing the skills gap, especially as 1 in 4 employees feel that they have not received adequate training to do their job properly.’
The onus is of course on individual organizations to properly train their staff, but FE providers can support businesses in developing their staff by offering tailored training packages for companies on the skills their employees need most. One of the building blocks of staff training is that it usually requires staff to spend time outside the workplace, but there are training options that can upskill staff in practical workplace skills. This type of training should be a no-brainer for businesses as it gives employees the opportunity to truly put the experience into practice and achieve results for their organization while learning.
Another way training providers can enhance their business offerings is through customized courses that allow the entire team to be trained in specific skills at the same time. For teams that are struggling or missing KPIs, training everyone at once can help identify and hone individual strengths and weaknesses and the best ways to work together to take the entire team’s performance to new levels.
The skills gap in the UK is a serious threat to the economy. UK businesses are struggling, as are people who want to find work but don’t have the right skills to get the job they want. It is important that education providers play their part in addressing this crisis. Where education and entrepreneurship once operated almost entirely separately, we need to work more closely than ever and involve business professionals in the creation and administration of courses to ensure that students leave ready for work and on the radar of companies that want hire staff. Moreover, as skills shortages extend to those already in work, we need to see more training institutions offering tailor-made courses that meet the specific needs of an organization and upskilling staff in the workplace.
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