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Plugging the skills gap


SKILLSDespite soaring unemployment figures, the skills gap is still an issue for UK businesses - and one that makes the economic environment that bit tougher to contend with. Jean Llewellyn describes how the National Skills Academy network is helping businesses to plug the gaps.

There is no doubt that the economic climate presents a real challenge to employers of all sizes. As businesses face tough choices to ensure they remain profitable it is understandable that cutting training budgets appeals, especially if the return on investment is not immediately apparent.

Photo of JEAN LLEWELLYN"According to the national audit office, skills gaps can cost a 50-employee business up to £165,000."

This is a prime example of a false economy: it is absolutely essential that companies do not cut staff training budgets in an attempt to make short-term savings. Now is the time to make smart decisions and adapt. Having the right staff with the skills and training they need to do their jobs is crucial to the success of any company - and getting involved with the National Skills Academy network is a great way to address this.

Designed with employers for employers, the network was launched in October 2006 to help address industry specific skills gaps. There are now 10active skills academies in the network, in sectors as diverse as nuclear and creative and cultural skills. A further six skills academies are in the business planning phase.

One of the network's key roles in the current climate is to help employers use their training budget wisely and ensure that all training is industry-relevant and company specific – crucial when budgets need to stretch further.

Investing in the right business-focused training will ensure employers do not suffer the pitfalls associated with skills gaps. According to the National Audit Office, skills gaps can cost a 50-employee business up to £165,000.

As financial constraints become more pressing it is important to ensure that staff gain the specialist skills that they need to be efficient and productive in their jobs. Without the right technical qualifications the problems associated with skills gaps are compounded.

"Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, recently urged employers to sustain or even increase their investment in training."

Through their involvement with the skills academy network, businesses are already seeing the real benefits of sector specific training that caters to their individual requirements. For example, the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing helped one company increase its manufacturing capacity by 50%, as a result of improved efficiency. Another organisation made an estimated annual saving of £129,720 due to the work of its NVQ candidates, who were trained by the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing.

The importance of skills can be seen across all sectors served by skills academies. Sylvia Perrins, the national director of the National Skills Academy for Financial Services, believes that a company’s people are the direct contributors to its bottom line results - and therefore its business performance. She asserts that: "Having the best skilled and motivated workforce is essential whatever the economic climate and perhaps more so when economic times are challenging".

This sentiment is echoed in many industries. For example, Mark Farrar, the chief executive at ConstructionSkills, highlights that the industry still needs to recruit around half a million new entrants over the next five years. He stresses that this major demand for new skilled workers indicates the need to plan future skills delivery, as well as maintain current industry skills levels.

The need for training in the current economic climate is being reiterated by some of the UK's most senior businessmen, politicians, union leaders, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, recently urged employers to sustain or even increase their investment in training, as he asserts that it is the people businesses employ that will get them through.

The National Skills Academy network is growing all the time and, as more employers get involved, the network will continue to develop relevant and cost effective training to help businesses survive the downturn.

Jean Llewellyn is the head of the National Skills Academy Strategic Network. To find out more about the National Skills Academy network go to


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