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Image is the real problem, not skills;FE Focus

Industries with poor working conditions or an unattractive image lose the greatest numbers of potential employees to further education colleges, a national survey shows.

The survey, published by the National Training Organisations, shows that most sectors of industry are having difficulty recruiting suitable staff. But the reason may be less due to skills shortages, but more to the unattractiveness - real or imagined - of the jobs on offer.

Sectors which had an unattractive image "feel they must increasingly recruit from a less skilled pool, whether from school-leavers without the necessary key skills, or from adults with less useful competencies.

"It is common for manufacturing sectors to be pessimistic about their image. The true skills shortages appear to relate to sectors experiencing relatively high growth such as information technology."

Some 17 per cent of sectors mentioned competition from further education as a factor contributing to recruitment difficulties. These were agriculture, agricultural garden machinery, chemicals, engineering, engineering construction, retail motor, textiles, hospitality, hairdressing and beauty, and glass.

The most commonly perceived shortages were for specialised craft, technical, professional and information technology skills. "The omnipresent need for IT skills at all levels, whether for operators or management personnel, was noticeable and doubtless influenced by the increased penetration of technology and computerisation throughout most sectors. Even in sectors with no serious skills shortages the need for IT skills received frequent mentions," the survey said.

Publication of the survey coincided with this week's launch of a network of employer-led NTOs by David Blunkett, the Education and Emplyment Secretary.

NTOs are charged with developing skills and fostering partnerships with linked industries and enterprise councils.

Mr Blunkett said: "For too long industry has complained that education is not preparing young people properly for the world of work.

"We are addressing this through our drive to raise standards in schools and our commitment to creating a learning society. NTOs are ideally placed to contribute to both initiatives.

"This new network offers a real opportunity to bridge the academicvocational divide.

"To date 55 NTOs have been recognised. We are determined every sector is well-represented and working towards this aim to complete the network."

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