New research by the British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with global job site Indeed, reveals the increasing time it’s taking businesses to recruit the skills they need, emphasising the importance of removing blockers in the training system to develop a pipeline of talent.

Today the BCC and Indeed also release The Hiring Handbook to help businesses find and recruit the best people.

Half of UK businesses say it takes longer to recruit people compared with five years ago, with 21% reporting it now takes up to six months to fill a skilled role, according to a survey of over 1,100 businesses from across the country.

The increase in recruitment difficulties reinforces the need for a simple, coherent and stable skills system that gives business the confidence to engage and invest in long-term workforce development.

The new T levels, due to be introduced in 2020, promise to offer young people a new route into employment, providing a quality, technical alternative to A levels that employers have long called for.

However, the results reveal a clear communication void with business ahead of their rollout, as three-quarters of firms say they’ve never heard of T levels or know only the name. Only 3% know a lot of details.

T levels will include a 45-day industry placement with an employer, so extensive engagement with business will be crucial to ensure that young people and employers in every region of the country get the skills they need. Yet, 41% of respondents say their business currently has no plans to offer a placement, suggesting that much more needs to be done to inform, incentivise and support firms, particularly SMEs. 

Similarly, the Apprenticeship reforms, introduced in 2017 with the intention of increasing the quality and quantity of training, are not yet meeting the needs of businesses. Firms reported barriers including the suitability or availability of apprenticeship standards, a lack of candidates applying for vacancies and difficulty managing off-the-job training requirements. Employers say relaxing funding restrictions, reducing complexity and improving flexibility in the system would help tackle crippling skills gaps.

Claire Walker, Co-executive director at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“For too long the UK’s approach to training has been characterised by constant chopping and changing of policy. The new Apprenticeship Standards, and T levels, provide the opportunity to ramp up quality and choice in technical and vocational qualifications, but more needs to be done to remove the blockers in the skills system – and communicate the benefits of these reforms – to get it working better for businesses. Once barriers have been resolved, we need period of stability to allow the changes to imbed. 

“To make T levels successful, it’s important to get buy-in from industry from the start. There is clearly work to do in communicating the benefits and opportunities to companies. At the same time, more businesses need to recognise their responsibility to invest in young people and the wider workforce. Developing the skills we need now and for the future relies on close cooperation between business, education and government – and for each to play their part.”

Pawel Adrjan, UK economist at global job site Indeed, said:

“Today, more working age people are in employment than ever before and there continues to be strong demand from employers for staff. While these economic conditions have clear benefits, they also make hiring more difficult. Combined with uncertainty about future immigration policy, that means employers should consider training a workforce for the future. Yet what this survey shows is that employers are either unaware or apathetic about schemes like T Levels and the related placements.

"Raising awareness of these schemes and ensuring that they work for businesses is important at a time when many of the people who do not already have a job and are available for work may lack the skills or experience that employers need. Training and upskilling the workforce is one way employers can access the skills they need to be competitive."

Businesses say:

“The Apprenticeship Levy is effectively a tax. We are unable to access enough suitably accredited courses to use what we pay each year in levy. It has had zero impact on our approach to the number of apprentices we recruit and certainly does not encourage us to recruit more.” : Large manufacturing business, Manchester

“There’s a skills shortage developing, in that fewer young people with the appropriate skills are applying for vacancies in our sector.” : Engineering SME, Lincolnshire

“Can’t use Apprenticeship Levy for my existing training as the framework is too inflexible.” : A large transportation and storage business, Thames Valley

“The levy is a significant factor in the reduction of young people coming into the insurance industry. The Chartered Insurance Institute is the training and development career path for those working in insurance and was fully funded by most firms. It is ironic that the levy had meant less young people being able to come into our biggest industry and export at a time when we need to ensure succession planning…The levy has literally stolen our training investment into Chartered scheme.” : Large insurance business, London

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) surveyed 1100 businesses from all regions of the UK online from 29 April to 16 May 2019.

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