North East Chamber of Commerce warns firms must invest to counter skills shortages

Around 78% of North East firms who took part in a survey intend to invest in training over the next year

Judith Doyle takes the helm as principal of Gateshead College
Judith Doyle takes the helm as principal of Gateshead College

Workforce training must be high on firms’ investment plans to avoid a looming skills crisis, the region’s leading business membership organisation has declared.

The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) is urging firms to increase apprenticeships and training opportunities in a bid to drive the region’s economic success.

The call follows the publication of findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey: Training and Skills, part of a nationwide report conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce.

The survey reveals an overwhelming majority of firms have identified a skills shortage among their workforce in at least one key competency.

Results from the regional part of the survey suggest the most common shortages are leadership and management, problem solving, planning and organisation, languages and creativity.

Most respondents – 73% – have said they plan to invest in training their workforce over the next 12 months, and 78% strongly agree that training is worthy of investment as a driver for growth and improving productivity performance.

More than a third of firms, 35%, plan to invest up to £500 per employee in external training over the next year. For more than half of respondents, however, the biggest barrier is cost implications.

Freeing up staff to participate in training is problematic for 30% of the firms that took part in the survey, and 9% said a lack of suitable courses was a major barrier.

Companies looking for guidance on appropriate training courses are turning to private training providers, sector based bodies and further education colleges to source and deliver training.

NECC director of policy, Ross Smith, said: “It is good to see a large number of businesses taking a proactive approach by investing in existing workforces, but a concerted effort to improve skills across all business sectors is required if we are to increase competiveness and productivity.

“It is not just the responsibility of large firms and schools, colleges and universities to ensure our future workforce is equipped with the requisite skills. This issue must be addressed throughout the business community.

“We have a plethora of large companies dedicated to apprenticeships and employee development, but more is required from SMEs in regional supply chains to address potential skills shortages.

“Around 80% of our engineering firms don’t have apprentices or are not engaged in the skills development agenda. It is vital that these companies explore the potential of recruiting apprentices – motivated learners who can be moulded to meet the needs of the individual business.

“Investing in training can drive higher productivity and increase profits. In addition to specialised training, however, our findings make it clear that investment in leadership and management skills is crucial to enhance strategic thinking, foster innovation and motivate employees.”

Gateshead College’s principal Judith Doyle said: “There are skills shortages in the North East, which is why we are working hard and making the innovative investments needed to equip our students with the skills and expertise employers need to close the gap.

“This includes equipping them with the entrepreneurial knowledge and training that will stand them in good stead for a successful career, providing that all important edge that organisations look for in an employee. It’s part of our wider aim of ensuring that our students are the most highly prized in the jobs market.”

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