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Business and academia need closer engagement

Posted on 10 October 2017

Many companies are actively trying to close the skills gap between what employers need and school leavers offer. But there is room for significant growth in engagement between industry and academia.

Despite the skills gap being a perennial complaint of employers, a recent survey of East Midlands firms found that only about a quarter (26.8%) actively engage with schools.

A similar number (25.6%) do not engage with schools and have no plans to do so. Nearly half (44.6%) said they would consider engaging with schools in the future.

Of those respondents engaging with schools, 41% offer work experience placements, 29% take part in careers fairs, 26% offer business speakers, 16% engage in classroom-based teaching activities, 16% mentor pupils and a similar number offer mock interview training.

Over a third (36%) of those employers said they offered apprenticeships to school leavers but only 4.8% gave financial support and 3.8% offered work placements for teachers.

Chris HobsonChris Hobson, Director of Policy at East Midlands Chamber*, which carried out the survey, said: “What the results of the Quarterly Economic Survey for the third quarter of 2017 tell us is that despite employers complaining year after year about the employability of school leavers, there is plenty of room for growth in engagement.

“Employers frequently tell us they can’t recruit suitably skilled staff and that many school leavers lack basic maths, English or the ability to answer a telephone or solve simple problems.

“And yet three-quarters of those same employers are not engaging with local schools, either at teacher or pupil level. This is something that needs to change, and quickly.”

The same survey asked businesses to what extent they had invested in improving resource-efficiency in the past year to reduce their carbon footprint.

Just over a third (36.5%) of respondents said they’d seen a small increase in spend in this area and 9.1% reported a significant increase. However, 25.2% reported no increase and 2.2% of firms had reduced spending in this area. Over a quarter (27%) said they didn’t invest in carbon footprint reduction.

Chris said: “For many years, we have been encouraging firms to invest in greener initiatives which can often lead to cost savings, so this result is particularly disappointing. This is another area where more work is needed because, ultimately, firms are missing opportunities to scrutinise the way they work and to make potential savings, which could enhance their overall productivity.”

More positively, however, and despite the uncertainty of Brexit, business remained buoyant and confident during the third quarter of the year.

A net 29% of companies said they had seen performance improvements in UK markets in the third quarter of the year – up from 23% in the second quarter - and a net 28% expected further improvements in the fourth quarter – up from 25% three months earlier.

Similarly, a net 38% of firms reported improved performance in overseas market in Q3 – up from 29% in Q2 – and a net 23% said they expected further improvement in Q4 – up from 14%.

A net 63% of respondents in Q3 said they were anticipating increased turnover in the months ahead – up from 58% in Q2 – and a net 46% said they expected profitability to rise – up from 44%.

However, a net 13% in Q3 said they planned to invest in equipment – down from 19% in Q2 – and a net 26% planned to invest in training – up from 19%.

Looking ahead, a net 36% of firms in Q3 anticipated staff levels would increase in the months ahead – up from 29% in the previous quarter – while a net 23% said they had increased their labour force in Q3 – up from 19%.

The overall result of the survey was to boost the Chamber’s State of the Economy Index – a calculation based on net changes – from 320 to 375, the same level as it was in the first quarter of the year.

Chris added: “The survey shows good levels of confidence in the business community despite the uncertainty caused by political machinations over the past few years.

“When you look at the quarterly results of the State of the Economy Index you can see dips that correspond to political uncertainty, such as the fall in Q2 this year in the run up to the snap General Election and the plunge to 204 in Q3 last year which followed a two-quarter fall around the Brexit vote.

“This clearly shows that business confidence dips during periods of political instability so we call on Government, even as we negotiate our way out of the EU, to ensure a period of stability so that business can plan for the future with confidence.”

You can see the Q3 QES summary document here.

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