Putting the employer first

11 February 2015

The lack of aspirations from the younger generation toward engineering careers, coupled with a shortage of engineers, may explain why almost one third of engineering companies have difficulty recruiting individuals with STEM skills, writes Chloe Fons.

The low carbon sector comprises the component parts of many other sectors including manufacturing and engineering, as well as service and innovation in technology. Not surprisingly, employment in the sector relies heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. This is particularly true for the hydropower and dam engineering industry.
Recent research suggests that at school year 9 in the UK, only 15% of pupils agree that they would like to work in science and only 25% in engineering, compared with 60% in business. This is symptomatic of a lack of awareness of the diverse positions science can lead to.

There is also some evidence that the demand for science, engineering and technology positions exceeds the supply of job seekers with such skills. The lack of aspirations from the younger generation toward engineering careers, coupled with a shortage of engineers, may explain why almost one third of engineering companies have difficulty recruiting individuals with STEM skills.

If nothing is done, this is likely to be an issue in the future. Independent models of future skills demand forecast a shortage of qualified people in STEM. This will be largely due to skilled people leaving the labour market - in other words, retiring - whilst not enough young people have been trained to replace them. But why?

A dysfunctional skills system

The current skills system in the UK is dual - on one hand, colleges and other publicly funded higher education institutions obtain funds according to their business plan. In this system, training providers have got great powers on the types of courses offered. Because they need to attract students in order to attain their targets and gain the funding, they may focus on popular curricula among young people, such as beauty and administration rather than focusing on the needs of employers. In the low carbon sector, more than 90% of businesses are small. Unless they regroup in a professional organisation, they are unlikely to have an impact on colleges' offers.

On the other hand, there is a privately funded market of mostly non-accredited training that may address business needs. The main drivers for low carbon employers to seek new skills, and it's true particularly in construction and engineering, are the introduction of new legislative requirements or technologies. Some companies in the low carbon sector are indeed struggling to find adequate training to up-skill their employees. The private market for training has an interest in following closely technological and legislative changes in order to adapt their provision of on-the-job training.

Recruitment is a big issue

Employer First is a not-for-profit business that is owned and led by business leaders from the low carbon sector. It was established in 2013 following a bid for the second round of Employer Ownership pilots. These pilots have been designed in order to test a new approach to skills solutions, called Employer Ownership of Skills. This is a long-term agenda that has been developed by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to encourage employer-led partnerships between employers, employees, trade unions and training providers to design skills solutions genuinely adapted to business needs.

Based in Nottingham, England the company operates nationally. Stemming from the Employer Ownership pilot, Employer First's main goal is to reform the skills system in consultation with low carbon employers and training providers. As it is a membership organisation open to both businesses and training providers, Employer First has the necessary leverage to influence which courses are offered in colleges and universities, in order to make the pipeline of young talent genuinely fit for jobs in the sector, both now and in the future.

In order to precisely identify the skills gaps and needs in low carbon businesses, Employer First has developed a unique assessment tool, called the Skills Diagnostic. It enables the company's impartial advisers to pinpoint which skills are missing within businesses, in order to see if they can be addressed with existing training, or the recruitment of a skilled individual.

If it is possible to answer their needs through training or recruitment, Employer First acts as a middleman to source them. The company has a recruitment team dedicated to finding the best candidates for Employer First members. Similarly, it has a team committed to sourcing the best training, locally if possible.

The Employer First training team also engages with training providers to build new courses. They stem from training needs that exist in the company's business members but have not been addressed yet. Training providers interested in devising new skills solutions or updating existing ones are invited to join Employer First's Network of Preferred Quality Suppliers.

Intelligence about the specific skills needs of the low carbon sector is collected through the Skills Advisory Board, which is chaired by Employer First members, who take part in skills groups that report on the state of skills in different industries within the low carbon sector. This intelligence then feeds through Employer First to its network of suppliers.

For more details contact Chloe Fons, Business Support Executive, Employer First.
Email: chloe.fons@employerfirst.co.uk



UKCES (2011) Employer Ownership of Skills - Securing a sustainable partnership for the long term. Available at http://bit.ly/1zM3Ksv
EngineeringUK (2014) Engineering UK 2014 - The state of Engineering. Available at: http://bit.ly/1sBimCd

King's College London (2013) ASPIRES - Young people's science and career aspirations, age 10-14. December 2013 available at: http://bit.ly/10VjytX

Matthew Harrison (2012) Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy. September 2012, Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Carbon Trust and Shell (2013) Low Carbon Entrepreneurs: the new engines of growth. Available at http://bit.ly/1vkysqM

Construction Industry Training Board (2014) Skills and Training in the Construction Industry 2014.

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