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South-west's boom is producing skill pitfalls

The South-west is the fastest-growing region in the country, and all large employers and almost all medium-sized firms have provided some form of training over the past 12 months.

This is the view contained in an employers' survey carried out by WESTEC, the Western Training and Enterprise Council. The area, which covers Bath, Somerset, Bristol and parts of Gloucestershire, has seen growth fuelled by the expansion of small and medium-sized companies.

The report confirms that training levels in the WESTEC region are higher than the national average. However, the generally positive economic picture is producing its own pitfalls - shortages, primarily in the IT and key skills areas, such as literacy and communication.

The report found that: * Although on-the-job training has fallen, off-the-job training has risen, with private firms, further education colleges and company staff the most common providers of external training.

* Twenty-seven per cent of employers have used open-learning methods, such as mentoring and experiential learning. This form of training was particularly prevalent in the finance and public- service sectors.

* The proportion of employers with a training budget is at a record high and the median value of the budgets is Pounds 5,000.

* One in five local employers considers that local training provision is limited in some way - mainly in terms of expense, lack of range and quality.

* Almost all employers (94 per cent) had heard of national vocation qualfications, and 9 per cent had workplace assessors. Awareness of the general national vocation qualification was lower, at 59 per cent, but had risen from 50 per cent in the past 12 months.

* Twenty-three per cent of employers expected to increase training expenditure in the next year.

The survey also found that two-thirds of employers had no preference for the type of qualification held by young people, or considered other factors to be more important.

Of those who expressed a preference, three times as many preferred traditional qualifications. Fifty-three per cent of employers had some form of contact with schools or colleges (a rise of 12 per cent since 1995), the most common contact being through work experience.

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