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Skills shortage threatens to put brakes on Westcountry's economic recovery

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 12, 2014

By Olivier Vergnault, Twitter: @OliVergnault

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Westcountry businesses are facing a massive skills shortage which could slam the brakes on the region’s economic recovery.

According to a new report by the Prince’s Trust and HSBC report 69 per cent of South West businesses believe a significant skills crisis will hit their organisations within the next three years while 43 per cent predict this will happen within the next 12 months.

Two-thirds of South West businesses surveyed fear skills shortages will slam the brakes on the UK’s economic recovery while 33 per cent fear it would cause their business to fold. The report, based on interviews with regional business leaders suggests that 81 per cent believe that the recruitment of young people into the workforce is vital to avert a skills crisis.

Forty-five per cent of South West businesses surveyed are already experiencing skills gaps within their organisations and more than half (56 per cent) have been unable to fill vacancies over the past year as a result. On the back of the report, youth charity The Prince’s Trust is calling on employers to invest in vocational training for unemployed young people in the region to avoid future skills shortages.

Dermot Finch, regional director of The Prince’s Trust in the South West, said: “It is deeply concerning that employers in the South West are struggling to fill vacancies when we have thousands of unemployed young people who are desperate for work.

“The current economic recovery is encouraging, but in order to sustain this growth, UK plc needs to invest in the next generation to avoid a skills vacuum in the future. We are urging businesses to take action now to up-skill the workforce of the future to prevent the bubbling skills crisis from boiling over.”

The report comes as the economic recovery has seen 66 per cent of regional businesses reporting increased demand for their services over the past 12 months, with 60 per cent saying that they are growing faster than this time last year.

However, more than half of those surveyed pinpoint faster growth as the cause of current UK skills gaps (60 per cent) and 56 per cent cite their ageing workforce as a concern.

Adam Powell, director of skills for the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The West of England has a thriving economy with many businesses choosing to locate or invest here. If we want to build on this success, it’s vital we have a workforce equipped with the right skills.

“One of the key drivers of economic growth both locally and nationally is ensuring the current and future workforce are provided with the opportunities to develop the skills that business need.”

Rob Wall, head of education and employment at the CBI, added: “The lack of skills in key sectors risks acting as a brake on our economic recovery. Organisations like The Prince’s Trust provide a critical role in helping plug the skills gap, equipping young people with the knowledge and skills they need to get on in work and life. Moving forward we need structural reform to open up more routes to higher skills.”

The Prince’s Trust aims to help 58,000 unemployed young people this year, providing vocational training in sectors with identified skills shortages such as construction, retail and logistics. The charity has supported more than 750,000 young people.

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