Time for captains of industry to set sail

The skills gap is a political and journalistic hot potato. Many industry commentators like to point fingers, but few accept the gauntlet of offering any sort of solution.

We hear over and over that a lack of IT consultants will regress our progress or fewer medical staff will bring the NHS to a grinding halt. On their own, those scenarios hold water.

But over on Harrison, Beale and Owen last week, another viewpoint both highlighted and aligned the problem. Their concise piece looks at the imbalance of graduates in the workplace and the mismatch of jobs they have to take, even if they don’t befit their level of education.

So, on one hand, we have a skills gap widening between the services available and those that businesses need. On the other, we have graduates who’ve done their stint at Uni, but are having to take jobs that don’t reflect their acumen.

The real problem with the skills gap

The problem, then, isn’t so much that we don’t have enough highly-trained people here in the UK. The real chagrin of the business community is that youngsters coming into the labour market aren’t qualified in the right doctrines!

There is a short-term upside for these businesses. They can now employ graduates for roles that aren’t commensurate with a graduate’s expected earnings.

But this is no long-term fix. The graduate will soon become disheartened and disspirited if they’re not taxed enough by their role. They’ll leave at the first opportunity of either a fresh challenge or pay rise and the employer will have to train a new employee all over again.

The whole process smacks of one word: waste!

In a business environment where lean is the only cut businesses can consider to remain competitive, it’s not ideal. But now, the CIPD is adding its weight to the argument. Here are their thoughts on what can satisfy both the business community and those in charge of education.

Governmental and industry responsibility:

The CIPD would love to see both the government and business community focus on three main areas each.

For Westminster, they want the government to:

  1. change apprenticeships from a numbers game to actually appointing capable school leavers on high level apprenticeships;
  2. review what level of investment it would take to marry all elements of further education with the needs of students, businesses and the economy;
  3. encourage businesses to incorporate highly-skilled roles within their DNA.

Employers can play their part, too, by:

  1. starting at grass roots level and become involved with local schools and education boards to highlight the needs from their industry;
  2. making those opportunities available for relevant school leavers possessing the desired skill set;
  3. ensuring that the recruitment process enables businesses to marry the right candidate with the role and questioning whether degrees are necessary, or if inhouse apprenticeships to the higher level would be more appropriate and beneficial.

While these are sound strategies, they only partly address the underlying cause. We have to be smarter with higher level education.

All Oar Nothing?

Imagine, if you will, a Norse longship. Below deck, you have row upon row of oars to power the ship should the wind not get up to speed. In charge of those oarsmen, you had one or two stone age coxes, keeping time and ensuring the boat kept moving forward.

Perhaps all of those oarsmen would have preferred the role of the cox, up there keeping time and timbre, not cramped on a wooden seat powering the boat. But to work as a unit, the balance had to be right.

The way it seems to me is that too many people want to be coxes, not enough oarsmen. Yes, it’s great that a liberal education allows you to follow your dream.

But what if everyone wanted to be a cox? What if they succeeded and qualified, but no one had trained to be an oarsman? You have a bunch of eminently qualified staff, but no one over whom they can laud their acumen.

Let’s hope that the government review, should it happen, takes into account the balance of doctrines that the education system needs to help businesses realise their potential.

A ship with too many chiefs and not enough oarsmen will remain forever at harbour. Those with the right balance can go forth and conquer the high seas, whichever way the wind blows.

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