Employers are looking to get more out of staff training during the recession to help their business survive, new CBI figures showed yesterday.
A survey by the business organisation also revealed, however, that employers feel the government’s flagship Train to Gain programme could be making more of an impact on their business.
The latest Confederation of British Industry/Nord Anglia education and skills survey, called “Emerging stronger: the value of education and skills in turbulent times”, shows that in response to the recession, 51 per cent of employers say that they want to target their training more effectively to get maximum return on their investment.
The CBI’s director-general, Richard Lambert, said: “During turbulent times, it would be understandable if firms have to reduce their training budgets ,but this survey shows that they are most concerned with getting more value from their training, to ensure they are better-placed for an upturn when it comes.”
Andrew Fitzmaurice, chief executive of Nord Anglia Education, said: “Since the last CBI survey on education and skills a year ago, the world’s economy has seen a severe economic downturn. Employers are keen not just to survive the recession, but to emerge from it in the best possible shape. To do so, training and development remains vital.”
The CBI says that now, more than ever, employers need effective support from government to help them invest in productive skills. But 42 per cent of employers using the flagship Train to Gain programme say it has delivered “no impact” for their business and three-quarters rated its training brokerage service as “poor” or at best “mixed”. It will be down to the new, integrated brokerage service created by the government this month to address this.
Employers support the principles behind Train to Gain – which provides skills advice and access to funding for staff on nationally-accredited training courses, adding up to £1 billion by 2010/11 – but, says the report, it has not been delivering what many businesses need to help them stay competitive.
In January, the government rolled out significant improvements for small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) and the CBI would like to see this opened to all firms.
The changes included giving SMEs funding for re-training staff at Level 2, equivalent to five or more GCSEs. There was additional support to train staff to Level 3, which is equivalent to A-levels and helps give firms a greater competitive edge. Recent government figures show the biggest increases in employer demand was for Level 3 training.
Mr Lambert said: “The government has a big role to play in helping employers make the most of their training and providing access to funding.
“Its flagship Train to Gain programme isn’t meeting the needs of enough businesses. To be really effective, it must be more flexible in the way it funds training for all firms, not just the smaller ones.”
The survey shows that firms remain committed to apprenticeships, which are still an important route for training skilled staff during the recession. Fifty-one per cent of firms say they are involved in the scheme and 38 per cent of employers hope to increase their numbers of apprentices.
Nevertheless, firms in general – and small firms, in particular – are finding it harder to take on trainees. Seventeen per cent of small firms have ceased their involvement in the scheme.
Employers believe the government could improve the apprenticeships programme and encourage more firms to take part. Over half (51 per cent) think it should introduce incentive payments for companies taking on apprentices, 50 per cent would like to see apprenticeship qualifications better matching business needs and 50 per cent want to see more young people that would not have traditionally considered an apprenticeship taking this route.
In addition, the government must take action to strip-out bureaucracy – 35 per cent of employers in the survey wanted action on this – and avoid prescriptive rules, such as stipulating minimum periods for “off-the-job” training.
Some 40 per cent of employers are concerned about the basic literacy and numeracy skills of their current workforce, with 57 per cent worried about IT skills. These skills problems are particularly acute in retail, where it is important that staff are understood by customers and can undertake simple numerical tasks – such as counting-out the right change.
Looking to the future, it is vital the UK has the higher level skills needed to drive the low carbon economy and rebuild the national infrastructure. But 57 per cent of employers in the survey lack confidence in there being enough highly-skilled staff in future.
This is a particular problem for firms recruiting people with science, technology and IT skills (72 per cent) and in the energy and water sector (68 per cent).
Recruiting people with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills will be vital, but 66 per cent of firms are having difficulty recruiting STEM skilled staff with 32 per cent having particular problems at graduate and postgraduate level.
Having skills in science and technology makes people more employable, according to the survey. Firms value their problem-solving and analytical abilities, and four in ten employers prefer a STEM degree over any other subject.
For the first time, the CBI asked graduate employers what salary they offered to different job types. Employers clearly value STEM skills with graduate jobs in science paying £1,000 over the average graduate starting salary, which is £21,000, and in engineering the starting salary is £1,500 above the average - only managerial jobs pay more.
More needs to be done to ensure a greater number of young people study STEM subjects at school and university, to equip them with the skills our economy needs, the report goes on to say.
Careers advice should make young people aware of the exciting and well-paid jobs available to people with STEM skills, and business must play a bigger role in helping to convey this message to students and their families.
Mr Fitzmaurice said: “Basic skills, such as reading, writing and doing simple maths, remain a real concern to employers. So too are the higher level skills, such as science, technology and engineering, which are of particular importance to the future of our economy.
“Too little training provided by employers leads to accreditation and we must ensure the qualifications that are on offer meet the needs of business. Government must aim its funding at training providers that are best equipped to do the job, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.”
* The survey was conducted between November 5 and December 3 2008 and 581 firms responded.