The research has been commissioned as part of the Skills Support for the Workforce Programme which Serco’s Employment, Skills & Enterprise business manage in Greater Birmingham and Solihull 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 created by automation and barriers to training in Greater Birmingham and Solihull.
The findings of the research provided recommendations for training providers and others working in the skills environment to consider as part of their future planning for skills delivery in Greater Birmingham and Solihull in order that it meet current employer needs.
Current adoption: Encouragingly, the vast majority of employers in the GBSLEP Transitional Area employ staff who are qualified to Advanced Level Skills. There is however significant disparity in the proportion of the workforce who are qualified to this level within organisations, ranging from under 10% to 100% of the workforce having Advanced Level Skills.
Future focus: The breadth of employment of staff with Advanced Level Skills in the GBSLEP Transitional Area could be viewed as encouraging, regarding the proportion of organisations employing staff at this level. It is the depth of employment however, regarding the proportion of employees qualified to this level within organisations, that could benefit from significant focus for development. The aim would be to encourage a higher adoption level amongst employers rather than the need to encourage initial adoption.
Change in need: A barrier to encouraging further adoption for increasing the proportion of employees with Advanced Level Skills is that two thirds of employers within the GBSLEP Transitional Area do not have an increased need for Advanced Level Skills; the majority of these stating that need is remaining the same and a number that their need is decreasing.
Benefits of adoption: Promoting both the benefits of Advanced Level Skills and the support options available for this area of workforce development could help negate this barrier. Just over one third of employers however do have an increasing need for Advanced Level Skills, illustrating the immediate potential need for internal workforce development and/or the recruitment of appropriately skilled candidates.
Recruitment: The three fifths of employers with staff qualified to Advanced Level Skills who have recruited at this level illustrate the extent of activity and demand for such employees. The half of employers who had difficulty in doing so however illustrates the potential impact of insufficient candidates on employer operations within the GBSLEP Transitional Area. Effective recruitment at this level is necessary to meet the requirement both of employers who need to increase Advanced Level Skills within the workforce through recruitment and those who do not necessarily have an increasing need for Advanced Level skills but need replacement at this level due to workforce turnover. The breadth of recruitment difficulties ranges from administration to management, illustrating a disparate range of skill shortages. The reasons for such difficulty include both demand (employer and environment) and supply (candidate) considerations. A resultant negative impact of recruitment difficulties has been felt by virtually all businesses affected.
Impact of COVID-19: A further consideration is the impact of COVID-19 on recruitment at this level, with two fifths of employers anticipating this will make recruitment at Advanced Level Skills harder. This is nearly three times higher than the proportion of employers who feel COVID-19 will make recruitment at this level easier.
Redundancy: Within the context of demand for Advanced Level Skills is the extent of redundancy. Whilst a negative activity, it does have the potential to release workers who then may be able to meet requirements of organisations experiencing recruitment difficulties or skills gaps. One quarter of employers have made redundancies at this level in the past 12 months. Regarding demand for support, one third of employers impacted or potentially impacted by COVID-19 on redundancy at any level would welcome assistance with such decisions.
Skills gaps: Affecting the ability to meet the need for Advanced Level Skills is influenced from both within the current workforce and from recruitment at the level of appropriate skills. Illustrating the potential impact on business within the GBSLEP Transitional Area is that one third of employers state there are skills gaps at this level. Covering a wide area, skills gaps include; IT, language, communication, management, business and general skills. The negative impacts which these shortages are having on business include business performance, workforce skills and capabilities and training. Just over half of these employers would like further assistance with these skills gaps regarding specific skills, general help and training support.
Training provision: Training is an appropriate response to addressing both Advanced Level Skills recruitment difficulties and skills gaps. Illustrating the adoption of training in the GBSLEP Transitional Area is that two thirds of employers have provided formal and/or informal training over the past 12 months. This leaves a notable one third of employers for consideration who have not provided any training for staff. Just over half of employers who have provided training have provided training which leads to a qualification at Advanced Level Skills. The extent of this training is wide, covering trainee, assistant and managerial level. The areas covered range from basic to professional level occupations. Virtually all employers identify a positive impact of this training, with a range of impacts on business noted.
Future training: Providing an indication for potential demand for future training, and the impact this could have both on the level of Advanced Level Training Skills amongst the workforce within the GBSLEP Transitional Area and addressing recruitment difficulties and skills gaps, is that half of all employers feel that training at this level would benefit their business. Whilst this is encouraging, virtually nine tenths of employers could identify a barrier to doing so. A wide range of barriers was identified, with no one barrier most significant and each barrier noted by less than one quarter of employers. A further consideration is that just over one quarter of all employers state that COVID-19 has impacted on their Advanced Level Skills training provision.
Awareness of routes and support: With apprenticeships being a route to employees achieving an Advanced Level Skills qualification, it is of significant interest to note that two fifths of employers in the GBSLEP Transitional Area are unaware or are unsure of this route. In addition, around half of employers are not aware or are unsure about apprenticeship levy funding, which would support these employers to train apprenticeships.
Potential for future adoption: The potential for promoting both of these opportunities amongst GBSLEP Transitional Area employers could impact significantly on awareness and hence consideration and take up of these areas of support. This in turn could directly impact on skills gaps and recruitment difficulties. The extent of adoption of apprenticeships to meet Advanced Level Skills is illustrated in the two fifths of employers who state they are interested in this route to meet their training and qualification needs at this level. Intermediate and Advanced Skills are significantly the two levels of most interest. Within this is the consideration that one fifth of all employers feel that COVID-19 will impact on their future use of apprenticeships as a route to qualification at Advanced Level Skills.
Provision: Three fifths of employers have provided workforce development opportunities. This is most significantly work experience, which has been provided by one third of employers in the GBSLEP Transitional Area.
Future provision: Encouragingly, more employers are willing to provide any such workforce development opportunity in the next 12 months than have done so in the past 12 months. Specifically, around one third of employers are willing to offer apprenticeships and work placements, both significantly higher than the proportions who have done so in the past 12 months.
Business support: Illustrating the potential demand for business support in the GBSLEP Transitional Area is that three fifths of employers would be interested in the GBSLEP business support projects for local employers. Specifically, over one fifths of employers are each interested in the GBSLEP Skills Hub and the GBSLEP Step Forward schemes.
BREXIT: Interestingly, whilst nearly three quarters of GBSLEP Transitional Area employers identified a concern about BREXIT, two thirds identified an opportunity. Both concerns and opportunities relate to the areas of trade, the business environment and business activity.
COVID-19: Nearly nine tenths of employers identify an impact of COVID-19 on their business, with one third identifying decreased sales and one quarter each identifying furloughing staff and supply chain problems. Nearly three quarters of employers identify an immediate concern, with this relating to; finance, staff and business operations. Whilst nearly one third of employers expect a decline in turnover, nearly one quarter of employers expect an increase in turnover as a result of COVID-19 over the next 12 months. Virtually the same proportion of employers predict an increase in staffing levels as expect a decrease as a result of COVID-19, each just under one quarter of employers in the GBSLEP Transitional Area.
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 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 Greater Birmingham and Solihull. I would like to personally thank the businesses, training providers and stakeholders that have taken time to contribute to this important piece of work."