SMEs and educators explore the skills shortage debate

POSTED: 15th April 2014
IN: Business news

While many SMEs are looking to hire as the economy continues to recover, the Commission for Employment and Skills reports skills shortages stand in the way of one in five job openings being filled.


Mentioned by numerous business experts at the annual conferences of both the FSB and the BCC in the past month, the skills gap has emerged as one of the most significant barriers to growth for UK SMEs.

Exploring the issue further, Aldermore invited various members of the business and educational communities to share their thoughts on the impact of skills shortages and what is being done to overcome them.

Simon Stokes, strategic account director at Fluidata

Speaking from an SME perspective, strategic account director at Fluidata Simon Stokes believes there is too much of an entrenched bias towards larger businesses from University careers services.

"A lot of the red-brick institutions will have arrangements with your big banks, your big institutions, your 'Googles', and push people into those kind of careers and actually from a growing SME perspective, it's a lot more difficult to find those candidates, both from the calibre and the quantity," reveals Stokes.

"We're now a Times top 100 company to work with in the medium business category and yet still we're struggling to bring in enough recruits to meet our growth demands."

Stoke also notes that new hires often fail to properly understand business culture and the need to fulfil different roles within a small business. "What we need to encourage is bringing people in to see real work environments and have real projects," Stokes adds, feeling that short-term work placements do not provide enough grounding for graduates.

Ann Mulhaney, enterprise fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University

Ann Mulhaney agrees with Stokes on the existence of skills shortages, though suggests the issue is more often sector specific. "I get feedback almost weekly from small business owners who say yes there is a skills gap, mainly around specialist skills; there's a lot of a gap in specialist skills such as engineering," Mulhaney states, mentioning, "In manufacturing, businesses are really struggling to recruit at the right level."

The Enterprise Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University also points to the need for firms to play a role in ensuring candidates are prepared for work, commenting: "Businesses, particularly small businesses, need to be aware of how to induct people into their organisations."

On a positive note though, Mulhaney sees progress being made by the education sector to bridge these gaps, saying: "Certainly in universities there's an awful lot happening at the moment putting entrepreneurship and employability on the agenda within all programmes."

Adrian Stores, business recruitment manager at Manchester Metropolitan University

Holding the dual roles of business recruitment manager at Manchester Metropolitan University and managing director at two SMEs, Adrian Stores has seen the skills shortage issue from both sides, and is glad to admit: "I think in general there are an awful lot more entrepreneurial opportunities than there ever were."

"The gap in relation to most of the activities that I'm involved with now tends to be actually not so much at school leaver age but at middle management age," Stores continues, pointing to the work of programmes like Young Enterprise, which introduce students to entrepreneurship at a young age.

Sheila Quairney, vice chair at Enterprise Educators

Enterprise Educators vice chair Sheila Quairney takes a less optimistic view, reporting that due to changing objectives for teachers, "In schools, there was more focus on enterprise a going back a few years than there is now." Quairney also feels challenges remain within universities.

"I think the issue is more that, still, self-employment isn't seen as the preferred career choice for the majority of people," Quairney states, continuing, "There's still a lot of pressure for students to go into employment, preferably in a large company. Certainly at university there's far more emphasis on going and working for a big corporate or blue-chip than there is in working for an SME for instance."

Through her role within Enterprise Educators, the national network which aims to promote enterprise education across the UK, Quairney believes there is scope for SMEs to play a larger role in shaping learning.

"I've been to forums that businesses are present at and they all say we'd love to go in and help schools more but they don't know where to go, they don't know who to approach," Quairney mentions, concluding, "We all want the same thing which is to produce employable young people that can make a difference for the economy and benefit the local, regional and national economy by being more enterprising."

As a firm believer in nurturing young entrepreneurial talent, Aldermore will be once again joining the latest Skill! Programme workshop on 29th April in Reading, mentoring local students as they try to answer a live business brief.

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