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Skills shortage 'growing worse';FE Focus

The country's national training organisations say employers' demands are still not being met. Ngaio Crequer reports

Skills shortages and recruitment difficulties are getting worse, according to a survey by Britain's 70 National Training Organisations.

NTOs, which oversee the training for the nation's crucial manufacturing and service industries, say that there has been little sign of improvement in the past six months.

The most severe skills gaps are in technical occupations and sectors reliant upon information technology or management skills. But, says the survey by the NTO National Council, almost all sectors are reporting skills gaps -where workers currently employed have lower skills than needed to meet business objectives.

Tom Bewick, the council's policy director, said: "The findings of our survey indicate that even in a comparatively low-growth economy, the increasing pace of change in the workplace means that skills need to be constantly updated. There is a danger, once again, that growth and competitiveness will be hindered by a skills base that is failing to cope with rising demands.

"This, combined with the supply side of education and training not meeting the demands of the sectors, does not bode well for the future if positive steps are not taken to minimise the mismatch."

The report says that some of the skills gaps are brought about by changes in work practices, such as increasing emphasis on customer service. Half of all school-leavers and unemployed people who were questioned said they did not have the skills required by employers.

Regions experiencing the most serious skills gaps are London and the South-east, with the North, Midlands and the South- west following closely behind. One-third of NTOs experienced difficulties in Scotland and Wales.

Mr Bewick said: "The main impact of skills shortages does not appear to be rising wages except in the IT industry, which is good news for the Bank of England. However, there are signs of poaching and employers engaging in predatory recruitment practices which is still limiting the overall skills base of the economy."

According to the survey, for those occupations where demand is expected to rise, almost half the NTOs say the training and education infrastructure does not meet the demands of the sector or meets them poorly.

Andy Powell, chief executive of the NTO National Council, said: "Despite the slowdown in economic activity, the majority of industry sectors have indicated that skills shortages, recruitment difficulties and skills gaps have not improved and that the major causes are increased demands on working practices outstripping the availability of suitably qualified people."

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