Why businesses are missing a trick by not engaging with educators

Richard Shaw, Director at GenNorth, calls for better resource planning from employers, especially if we’re to bridge the skills gap.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the property and construction industries are seeing an unprecedented level of activity and acute demand for qualified people right across the huge range of disciplines that operate in the sector. This is resulting in a well-publicised ‘merry go round’ of people moving between organisations driven by strong market conditions, combined with the push of a year sat at home where people have pondered their careers wondering if the grass could be greener. 

Market activity is being driven in part by the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, a once in a generation opportunity to provide more balance to economic prosperity in the UK. The £4.8bn fund will create a significant number of new jobs across the north. We are seeing evidence of this through the proposed new hospitals in Leeds and Manchester, the Bank of England expansion and the establishment of the Infrastructure Investment Bank in Leeds, along with the various government departments moving to Darlington, York and Manchester. Separate initiatives such as the Towns Fund are also providing welcome investment in many northern towns. The private sector is also buoyant with major investment taking place across many of our towns and cities.

The property and construction industry has long lamented the lack of skills and capacity in the industry due to its ageing workforce and the proliferation of new technology requiring a broader set of skills and disciplines. A third of all workers in the UK are now over 50, a statistic which keeps rising. Despite this, employers aren’t planning effectively to meet the skills demand with most recruiting reactively or on a one-year maximum horizon. 

Whilst there is a real awareness of the issue, there is a disconnect between capacity and the skills that organisations are looking for and those that young people bring, beyond the core curriculum. Further, the new T-Levels offer a strong blend of academic and vocational learning but uptake from employers to date has been underwhelming, largely because the process and the benefits are not well understood.

Luminate Education Group which includes the colleges of Leeds, Keighley and Harrogate have recently completed an excellent piece of work looking at the skills and behaviours that employers are looking for and then integrating those into the curriculum.  

Colin Booth, CEO at Luminate Education Group, commented: ‘There is a real opportunity to build on this work including extending it to businesses in the property and construction industries which will give us valuable insight that would help us shape our courses, preparing young people to take up the roles that so desperately need filling.’

Notwithstanding the short term challenge that will not go away, we have a real opportunity to address the skills and capacity gap in the medium to longer term through a targeted intervention.

Most public and private sector organisations prepare 5-year business plans but very few produce a 5-year resourcing and talent plan beyond an overall target headcount. Doing so, and sharing them with education providers, would allow much more productive conversations to take place about the numbers and skills of apprentices and graduates needed. It would also allow all parties to plan appropriately, resulting in a much more seamless transition for young people from education to the workplace whilst addressing the skills gap. 

This approach would support the ethos behind the governments ‘Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth’ white paper published in January this year and the associated ‘Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP)’ pilots launched in July by the Department for Education. 

The Chamber of Commerce recognises its potential as a key integrator in the process and is collaborating in some of the Joint Trailblazer and Development Fund pilot areas.

Mark Goldstone, Head of Business Representation & Policy at the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce reinforced this, saying: ‘Businesses need to be at the heart of the skills system. With its role in the LSIP process and its strong links to business, education providers and the public sector, it is recognised that the Chamber of Commerce is ideally placed to collate the data and facilitate the conversation driving a real step change in developing a talent pipeline.’

Whilst this initiative would make a significant difference to the property and construction industry, there is a clear opportunity for all industries to follow a similar model to develop and share 5-year recruitment plans with education providers and to build strong talent pipelines through effective engagement.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a skills legacy through longer term planning and increased engagement between business and education providers, including through the development of 5-year talent and resourcing plans that can inform the technical and soft skills included in education provision. It’s an opportunity that we can’t afford to squander.