18 October 2020
Association of Colleges (AoC) has published its latest bi-annual research showing the majority (68%) of SMEs say that if their business is going to “survive and thrive” then skills must be a top priority for the government.
Despite recent high-profile skills speeches and announcements, almost 40% of SME decision-makers say that it is more difficult now than it was five years ago to find employees with the right skills (37%), and over half (51%) of SMEs in the South agree that not enough is being done to help them skill and reskill their workforce as we get closer to the end of the Brexit transition period.
Almost one in two (45%) believe that it will become even more difficult to hire people with the right skills once the Brexit transition period has ended, and that the country’s skills gap will only get worse (44%).
The national survey of SME leaders also shows that the impact of Brexit is no longer the biggest worry for businesses in the South - half (50%) cite COVID uncertainty as a key concern regarding the future of their business, compared to 30% who cite the impact of Brexit uncertainty. More than two in five (44%) say that the skills gap in their sector is likely to increase because of threats such as COVID-19, and half of SMEs in the South say they will need to retrain their workforce to adapt to the opportunities and threats thrown up by the virus and Brexit.
The study, released to mark Colleges Week (19 - 23 October), shows that seven in 10 (71%) believe colleges are important to business for training and retraining staff. As a business, 39% say they would look to train, retrain or upskill their employees through colleges, compared to 21% who would turn to a university or 13% online courses. A further 44% believe colleges are best placed to skill their future workforce, compared to universities (22%) and schools (21%).
Further evidence of the importance of colleges to the UK’s future workforce shows around six in 10 (59%) say that it is important that their business has staff with level 3 qualifications, all of which can be gained at college.
Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes said:
“The economic recovery has to be skills-led if we are to support businesses and people through this pandemic. It is only through training and retraining that we will be able to make sure that people have the skills they need to retain their jobs and to apply for new ones, and that businesses have the employees they need. Both will allow the country to grow back better.
Skills gaps did not emerge in this pandemic, they are long standing challenges which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the UK nearing the end of the Brexit transition period. Government has rightly expressed its commitment to prioritising skills, but now we need the investment to flow quickly to the right people and places. People and businesses need skills and training as an urgent priority if they are going to survive the coming months, and thrive in the coming years.
Colleges in every part of the country provide first-rate education and skills, working on average with over 500 businesses in their local community, skilling, and reskilling business staff, helping them to overcome the problems of today and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. Colleges already do so much to support business and they stand ready to do so much more.”
Joe Fitzsimons – Senior Policy Advisor at the Institute of Directors said:
"Skills are fundamental to business, and the coronavirus outbreak has only made this clearer. However, the pandemic has also put further pressure on a training system that was already in need of an upgrade. For many firms, with uncertain cashflow, it's proving challenging to invest further in training staff. Business leaders are ready to work with the education sector and government to ensure we can address crucial skills gaps in the months and years ahead, and the UK's colleges will undoubtedly be a key piece of the puzzle."
Available for interview to discuss the research and to celebrate the key role colleges play in Britain is David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges and Sally Dicketts, President of AOC and Chief Executive of Activate Learning Group.
Since the original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, Plumpton College has certainly seen a lot of changes.