Businesses debate how they are tackling the skills shortage hampering Sheffield City Region growth

Business leaders discussed how they are tackling difficulties in recruiting the right candidates for their job vacancies at a breakfast event that shared the latest results of the Quarterly Economic Survey. The results of the business survey showed that while over half of manufacturing and service firms have tried to recruit over the last 12 months and the majority expect to increase their workforce in the near future, they are experiencing difficulties in finding the right candidates for the roles.

The survey results, presented by Dr David Littlewood from the Sheffield University Management School, showed that the main reason for 46% of firms failing to recruit was due to candidates lacking the necessary skills, especially for skilled manual and technical jobs and managerial and professional roles. Additionally, nearly 20% of firms reported a lack of qualifications also being a primary factor. Over 50% of firms however were willing to invest in training.

During the panel debate, facilitated by Greg Wright, deputy editor of The Yorkshire Post, Nigel Brewster, vice chair of the Sheffield City Region and partner at Brewster Pratap, said students are just as work-ready as five years ago but that times are different with five generations now in work. As well as needing to know the core subjects of maths and English, more diverse skills such as digital are also required.

Another panellist, Sharon Beck, the managing partner at Taylor Bracewell LLP, said that offering apprenticeships is a good way to recruit and train staff. The law firm recruited 16 apprentices last year and trained them on all aspects of the business including, and perhaps most importantly, soft skills. She said: “The attitude of candidates is key to our recruitment. It’s important to invest in people and we work hard to ensure that everybody’s contribution, from top to bottom, is recognised and respected.”

Julia Bloomer, the chairman of the Rotherham Business Growth board agreed that emotional intelligence should be taught in schools and valued in the workplace and that it’s important for the two to engage with each other.

Louisa Harrison-Walker, the managing director of Benchmark Recruit, added: “School, college and university leavers could have a better understanding of sectors and associated job roles earlier in their career path to enable them to make more informed choices, and gain the right skills and qualifications.  To support this the work experience scheme needs completely remodelling.

“There are some fantastic examples of best practice with regards to dialogue between education and commerce through schemes like the Enterprise Network and the Doncaster Skills Academy, which encourage business experts to interact with students as role models, ambassadors and mentors.

“Small employers can sometimes struggle to engage with colleges and universities and as a result entry level roles can be invisible, prompting graduates to leave our region without being fully aware of the variety of opportunities available.”

The business survey showed other reasons for difficulty in recruiting such as candidates not being willing to move to the Sheffield City Region or uncompetitive wages were not highly experienced by firms.

The main staff incentives to recruit and retain staff offered by both manufacturing and service sector firms were additional personal and professional development training and bonuses for hitting targets. Additionally, over the last 12 months, 80% of manufacturing firms and 68% of service firms in the Sheffield City Region awarded pay rises with more intending to award them in line with inflation over the next year.

During the event at The Source, Meadowhall, Alistair Cunningham of the Bank of England also presented on the current economic landscape and its impact on business. He reported that the growth rate had slowed in Q2 despite an increase in construction, manufacturing & business services. There was a squeeze on consumer spending as inflation was close to its peak but there were no signs of earnings growth.

The results of the survey, conducted by the Sheffield City Region’s four Chambers and supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership, are used to influence and inform local, regional and national policy-makers about businesses’ needs to help shape the support structures available to the business community.

The Q3 Quarterly Economic Survey, sponsored by The Source, runs from Monday 21 August to Monday 11 September 2017. Businesspeople are encouraged to take just three minutes to  answer the questions online and be entered into a free prize draw to win two Flybe flights to Berlin, courtesy of Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

To read the Q2 2017 QES results and take the Q3 survey visit:

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Image: Regional businesses tackle the skills gap: From left, Nigel Brewster, Julia Bloomer, Sharon Beck, Louisa Harrison-Walker, Alistair Cunningham and Greg Wright.

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