Skill dearth hits capital

17th May 1996 at 01:00
Widespread skill shortages in London and increasing polarisation of the workforce are seriously damaging the capital's economic performance, according to a major new study.

A wide-ranging economic profile produced by the city's eight training and enterprise councils highlights an urgent need to boost skill levels to international standards if the capital's businesses are to remain competitive.

A combination of rapid technological change and the increasing exclusion of sections of the population are halting progress, says the study.

In a prospectus for economic development, launched with the profile, the TECs say moves to bridge the skills gap must be put at the top of London's agenda. London's large ethnic minority community must also gain greater access to economic opportunities, it adds.

Almost one in 10 London employers admit their own training weaknesses are severe enough to hit growth. Though they are increasingly looking to expand into new foreign markets, according to the study, they are hindered by managerial and technological skills shortages.

Job opportunities in London are increasingly in professional and technical rather than manual areas, leaving more men "stranded with obsolete skills". The profile also predicts a further alarming trend in which women in traditionally female-dominated clerical and administrative jobs will be left behind by the spread of information technology.

Problems in finding suitably-qualified staff locally are prompting London employers to widen their search for skills, says the report, bringing yet more commuters into the capital and adding to rising levels of congestion.

Though the profile highlights London's achievements as a world city with key commercial roles, it paints a picture of a capital at the eye of a storm of economic change. The process is tending to increase polarisation between communities, leaving some areas deeply deprived and showing poorer results in education and training while others forge ahead.

"London's seemingly unassailable strengths appear to exist independently of its apparently intractable weaknesses," the profile says.

The capital is also polarised along ethnic lines, with London's non-white communities experiencing nearly double the unemployment rates of the average . The failure to break down those barriers is "limiting the capital's overall competitiveness".

Ethnic minority businesses, which tend to be small and to serve local communities, need to find a wider role in the city's economy, the prospectus says. The document reaffirms the London TECs' commitment to their common vision for the capital, declared in their first economic development prospectus two years ago.

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