Skills don't add up for small business

A survey suggests almost half of businesses are having trouble finding workers with core skills to fill jobs - despite high unemployment.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 03 Nov 2011
Eyebrow-raising news from the British Chambers of Commerce this morning, which says small businesses are having trouble recruiting new staff to their organisations. Apparently, 45% of businesses said it’s ‘very’ or ‘quite’ difficult to find the person to fit a role, because lots of candidates don’t have the right skills for the job – including, rather shockingly, acceptable levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as communication and timekeeping. Pretty basic stuff, then. This is despite the fact that figures this week showed unemployment has now hit 2.57m. Yeesh…

We might as well look on the bright side – whatever level of qualification you have, the 6,000 businesses questioned by the BCC won’t be particularly enthused by your skills. So while fewer than a third of businesses said they’ve be ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ confident about recruiting school-leavers with A-Levels (or similar), 45% felt the same about taking on graduates. So that £9k might very well not be worth it.

What’s just as worrying is that a mere 20% said they’d be happy recruiting an ex-public sector worker, while just 10% said the same about taking on someone who’s been out of work for six months or more. We don’t fancy those odds – particularly public sector cuts are expected to continue gathering speed over the next few months…

Interestingly, while the Coalition has spent the past year pushing its agenda on apprenticeships, it doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on businesses. According to the BCC’s figures, just 20% of small businesses took on an apprentice between March 2010 and April this year, while only 15% are planning to recruit one over the next 12 months. What should be of particular note to the Government is that of those who hadn’t taken on an apprentice, more than half said it was because apprenticeships aren’t ‘relevant’ to their sector – which suggests that it might be worth putting extra effort into showing businesses across all sectors why apprenticeships are important.

What’s encouraging, though, is that just 14% of businesses said they had ‘no’ training budget. That indicates that, despite the fact that budgets everywhere are being tightly squeezed, the majority of businesses are still keen to invest in their staff. Although, given those concerns about basic literacy and numeracy, they might want to kick things off with a course on the eight times table…

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