Small and medium sized businesses told to hire apprentices to help North East plug skills gap

Latest Manpower survey shows jobs market cooling - but North East firms also struggling to fill vacancies

James Ramsbotham, chief executive, NECC
James Ramsbotham, chief executive, NECC

Business leaders have called on small and medium sized firms to employ more apprentices after new figures show North East companies cannot find skilled workers.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey - which is based on responses from more than 2,100 UK employers - says that while jobs growth continues in the region, it is slowing.

It also claims there are jobs out there, particularly for engineers, IT helpdesk staff, call centre workers and doctors receptionists - but that companies cannot find the people with the right experience to fill the roles.

“We know from our own Quarterly Economic Surveys that members are recruiting and investing in their businesses more than at any other time since the recession,” said James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce.

“However, we are aware that there are roles within the engineering sector in particular that are not being filled.

“Over 8,500 skilled people across our region will be retiring from the sector before 2016, posing considerable danger to the industry, with many companies reaching full capacity in their ability to recruit and deliver.

“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 is something the business community must address. We have large companies dedicated to apprenticeships and employee development, but not enough is done by SMEs in regional supply chains to address potentially serious skills shortages.

“Companies must take an active role in developing the future workforce. Around 80% of our engineering firms do not have apprentices or are not engaged in the skills development agenda.

“It is vital that these firms explore the potential of recruiting apprentices – motivated learners who can be moulded to meet the needs of the individual business.”

According to the survey North East companies are cooling on the idea of hiring new staff in the fourth quarter of 2014 - but Amanda White, operations manager at Manpower, agreed that many positions are also going unfilled.

“It may look like a worsening environment for job prospects in the North East, but in fact there are a substantial number of vacancies out there as employers are finding it challenging to obtain the skills needed for the jobs on offer,” she said.

“In Newcastle and the rest of Tyne and Wear, for example, employers are showing a strong need for engineers and other skilled workers in the manufacturing and oil and gas industries, however there is a shortage of candidates with the relevant skills in the areas required - such as design, project delivery, production, testing and inspection.

“Outside of the engineering sector, there is demand for IT helpdesk operators, call centre staff and medical receptionists and secretaries.”

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