Jo Birch, Director of Innovation and Employability of Birmingham City University discusses the importance of getting regional businesses the skills needed for their future workforce.
If you’re finding it difficult to recruit skilled workers, you’re not alone. Statistics from the British Chamber of Commerce show that by the last quarter of 2017, the skills shortage had reached critical levels, putting future economic growth at risk.
By 2024¹ there will be 12 million too few high and low level skilled workers to fill the jobs that the national economy needs to generate. Failure to address could cost our economy a massive £90bn. Our local region is not immune to the impact of these skills shortages either. With 13% of our region unskilled and approximately, 12,000 people not in education, employment or training there’s much to be done at a local level to ensure we have the people to meet our own skills needs.
However, the good news is that there are strong plans in place to ensure our region’s skills requirements are met. Here at Birmingham City University we’re leading the march by ensuring we understand the needs of local businesses and our graduates leave university ready to take up the exciting career opportunities the region has to offer.
One of the biggest issues we’re seeing impact both our region and the rest of the UK is the significant amount of people at retirement age leaving skilled professions. There simply aren’t enough candidates with the right skill sets to replace them.
This issue is also being compounded by the rate of change we’re seeing in the digital, technical and engineering sectors. We conducted research in association with local colleges and universities into the skills deficit in advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors in our region. The research outlined the impact of new technologies on the sector giving rise to the need for a workforce equipped with new skills. The supply of higher learning and high level skills has failed to keep pace and without a radically new approach to training, the skills gap will persist. That’s not to say traditional skills are no longer required, it’s up to skills providers to ensure graduates are equipped with the relevant skillsets to adapt.
At Birmingham City University our employability team is committed to working with local employers to understand their recruitment challenges; liaising with local investment bodies to support the region’s needs; and ensuring all of our graduates are ready to take up local employment opportunities.
Here are just some of the ways we’re working to meet the region’s skills requirements:
Around 96% of the businesses in our local areas are SMEs and our research and discussions with business owners have shown that employers need more help in understanding the funding maze and the ever-evolving training programmes and courses on offer. This is why we launched BCU Advantage, Birmingham City University’s business growth service, to connect local businesses to our academic business knowledge, workshops and training. It also helps them find the funding opportunities available to them and gives them access to our highly skilled students and graduates. Our account-managed, Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) service makes it easy for SMEs to engage with us and match their skills requirements with those of our graduates and extended project partners.
We also recognise the importance of soft skills to employers such as communication, relationship building and listening skills. Our Graduate+ programme helps our students develop these soft skills by giving them local placement or internship opportunities.
Just recently it was announced that employers haven’t taken advantage of the apprenticeship levy fund. The government hoped the levy would make more employers invest in training, but this hasn’t happened because SMEs found it too time consuming and bureaucratic. It’s therefore more important than ever that we engage with employers to ensure they are involved in shaping our curriculum so that we tailor our courses to meet their needs.
We have a range of strategic partnerships with big businesses in the local area. We spend time with them to understand their requirements and then tailor our approach accordingly, whether that’s through an apprenticeship scheme, or providing them with graduates on a placement or internship.
It’s essential that skills providers be more attuned to employers and work in partnership with them. Relationships with employers need to be encouraged and built over the long-term from first point of contact through to engagement with our academics and curriculum.
More women and those from diverse minorities need encouraging into the engineering, digital and manufacturing sectors. They are massively underrepresented and if you consider the size of the skills gaps that exist, it cannot be solved without them.
At Birmingham City University we’re actively working with local schools and colleges to recruit more females and those from diverse backgrounds onto our engineering and digital courses and we consider them vital to fulfilling the skills gaps.
Not only is our curriculum designed to ensure our students are work-ready when they leave us, our employability teams in each faculty work with our students to ensure they’ve had work experience and have developed the soft skills they need to excel in the workplace. If all of our graduates got graduate level employment locally, we could go some way towards solving the region’s skills gaps.
Every facet of Birmingham City University is helping address the region’s skills gaps, from our academics inviting employers onto advisory boards through to our employability unit in each faculty. We are passionate about addressing the region’s skills gaps and our team is growing so that we are well equipped to transform along with the needs of the region.
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce said business itself must do more to address skills shortages by training and investing wherever possible in people. And key to this is more employers working with us in partnership to achieve their recruitment goals. We know that when our students and graduates are exposed to real life work experiences and engage with our curriculum the outcomes for both employer and graduate are successful. We welcome employers engaging with us so we continue to better understand needs and find more ways of engaging.
Birmingham is a big city with big ambitions and Birmingham City University is on a mission to ensure local businesses have the local talent they need to meet their growth goals.