Do you have the skills for the job?

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Despite the East Midlands having more than 27,000 current job vacancies, almost half of local employers are finding it difficult to recruit people with the right skills, qualifications and attributes to do the job, according to the results of a new survey.

The figures, released by the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, found that just over 30 per cent of firms find it very easy or quite easy to attract candidates of the right calibre for roles within their organisations, compared to 43 per cent who found it either quite or very difficult to find the right staff.

More than 440 local firms took part in the national survey, which was carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce. The research looked at the issues around skills, apprenticeships and training to understand the challenges faced by businesses operating in a labour market dramatically altered by the financial crisis.

It found that businesses lack confidence in the skills system and believe that more needs to be done to equip school leavers, young adults and the long-term unemployed with the skills and attributes they need for the workplace.

Despite unemployment in the East Midlands reaching the 183,000 mark many firms claim candidates do not have the right skills for the job, including poor levels of literacy and numeracy; “soft skills” like timekeeping and communication; and, crucially, the right attitude towards work.

Businesses also lack confidence in qualifications at all levels. Only 33 per cent of local businesses are very or fairly confident in recruiting graduates and just 29 per cent felt similarly about recruiting a school-leaver with A-levels or equivalent.

Less than a fifth of businesses (17 per cent) were very or fairly confident in recruiting ex-public sector workers and less than ten per cent felt confident in taking on someone who has been unemployed for six months or longer.

With increasing levels of youth unemployment and businesses unable to get the right staff, the education system must better equip young people.

The Chamber is helping to address this need through its work delivering the Government’s new Work Programme initiative locally, which aims to help those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and long-term sickness benefit back into work.

While the survey found that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of local businesses engage with schools, colleges and universities, more can be done to ensure that the skills system supplies the kind of workforce needed by businesses.

The study also found that just 20 per cent of local firms took on apprentices between March 2010 and April 2011, despite around 42 per cent of firms saying they had considered taking on an apprentice in previous Chamber research. Even fewer employers (13 per cent) are planning to recruit an apprentice in the 2011/12 financial year.

Firms that employ apprentices view them as an integral part of their development plans, with 80 per cent taking on an apprentice to build up their skills base. The report also found that the majority of local businesses have a staff training budget, with only ten per cent saying they hadn’t.

Commenting on the local results of the survey, George Cowcher, Chief Executive of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “A highly-skilled workforce is absolutely crucial to the success of any business, yet the results of this survey provide incontrovertible evidence of what Chamber members have been telling us for some time – that businesses want to expand, create jobs and develop their workforce, but are hampered by a lack of skills in the local labour market.

“At a time of record youth unemployment, firms lack confidence in our education system’s ability to deliver basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills required for the majority of jobs.

“Even more crucially, what firms value most in employees is punctuality, enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn, yet these attributes are often missing and firms are therefore reluctant to take a chance on investing in someone who may have the right qualifications, but not the right attitude towards work.

“Whilst the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships is welcome, many employers are still not aware of the benefits they bring to the workplace and the scope of apprenticeship frameworks available, which can be tailored to meet their needs.

“For its part, the Government must place the skills and training agenda at the very heart of its growth strategy to ensure that the labour market meets the needs of local business.”