The research has been commissioned as part of the Skills Support for the Workforce Programme which Serco’s Employment, Skills & Enterprise business manage in Black Country and which is co-financed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the European Social Fund. The ESFA commissioned Serco to conduct research to understand employers’ skills needs in Black Country as part of the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) skills planning.
The findings of the research provides information for training providers and others working in the skills environment to consider as part of their future planning for skills delivery in Black Country in order that it meet current employer needs.
The report concludes that in Black Country the incidence of skills gaps and/or shortages amongst businesses in the region is relatively high, and they tend to be very sector specific in nature hence meaning that the training needs arising are varied in nature. Some of these skills issues are caused by a fundamental problem with supply and others are caused by competition from other better paid or higher-profile industries. Around a fifth of Black Country businesses are impacted by either a digital skills shortage or a digital skills gap (some are affected by both).
The most common digital skills shortages and gaps relate to digital marketing, software skills (varying by sector but often tending to be focused on future technology and adapting to give them a competitive edge) and IT specific skills (including basic skills and specific systems). For a small number of businesses, the digital skills gaps that exist are having a negative impact and evidently inhibiting growth. Businesses are nevertheless doing what they can to address the skills gaps that exist, which commonly involves training, but this also impacts on business as it takes up precious time and resource.
Those facing current skills gaps or shortages were more likely to have undertaken training or development in the last 12 months. This suggests that action is commonly being taken in response to skills issues. Evidence suggests that business owners are generally proactive in seeking training or development options and often know where to go to access the training required. However, this isn’t always the case and some businesses would benefit from more direction and awareness of the Growth Hub, and what it has to offer, could be improved.
There is furthermore some interest in support with developing a digital skills analysis, particularly amongst those with existing skills gaps, so this could be one method of reducing the amount of shortages and gaps that exist. Methods and tools used to deliver training or development is very much dictated by the skill concerned, with some better suited to classroom-based delivery away from distractions.
However, online/e-learning is the most popular method for future digital training amongst businesses, particularly as that fits in better around the working day for many. Current circumstances may further necessitate the use of online training methods, even for subjects that might previously have been delivered face to face.
Where barriers to training exist the cost of training and the impact of having staff away from work tend to cause the biggest issues, particularly amongst those with skills gaps, underlining the severity of having such gaps for some businesses. These barriers are also a particular issue for microbusinesses and evidence also suggests that they have less confidence in being able to address skills and training amongst their workforce.
Future digital skills needs will doubtless be impacted by Covid-19, with some businesses facing a potential change in direction, others placing more emphasis on digital marketing and new methods of delivering training coming to the fore.
Rob Matts, Head of Skills Support for the Workforce said “this is a very important piece of research that we are pleased to have been able to deliver for the LEP on behalf of the ESFA. The findings provide first-hand insights from employers that can guide the skills sector in order it meet the training needs of the diverse business community in Black Country. I would like to personally thank the businesses, training providers and stakeholders that have taken time to contribute to this important piece of work.