Skills shortages: the biggest barrier to workforce productivity, say small firms

Feb 11, 2018


RECENT PwC research found that nearly a fifth of UK small businesses see skills shortages as the biggest barrier to their workforce productivity.

Crucially, 37% of small businesses polled felt the aptitudes most absent in new recruits included resilience, adaptability and interpersonal skills. 

Significantly fewer, 24% of businesses felt technical and numeracy skills were in short supply and a similar number noted the same for commercial skills.    

The findings come from a poll of decision makers in more than 300 small businesses and  supplements research from a panel of larger businesses on addressing the productivity challenge.

Bigger firms agree that, while the focus on improving so-called STEM skills is important, equal attention must be paid to soft skills – particularly significant in today’s rapidly automating world.

Improving skills is rightly a big focus of the government’s industrial strategy. There is much attention on STEM skills, but getting the soft skills right is just as important. Resilience and adaptability are arguably harder to teach but are nonetheless essential to businesses, regardless of size or sector.

Skills are also a pivotal factor as we continue to strive for innovation. We should prioritise developing tech talent at a much earlier age and making sure that the industry appeals to, and is open to, all.

There is a real opportunity for the industry, schools and universities to work together to get young people excited about the range of technology careers in today’s world. Creating a diverse and inclusive tech industry in our region will fuel the innovation of the future and position the UK as leading the field.
The future success of the UK economy will rely not only on technological innovation but, crucially, also on combining this with the right human insight and business understanding.

At PwC we are using the apprenticeship levy to fund technology degree apprenticeships in Leeds, Birmingham and Belfast, which will give more young people the opportunity to develop their technology skills in an environment that will help them build the broader experience needed to position the UK’s tech industry as world-class.
Support for lifelong learning also needs to be an essential component of the government’s future skills strategy.
Disruption from emerging technology is now a fact of life and businesses are considering how the fourth industrial revolution will impact their operations and employees. 

At the same time, they also have the day-to-day demands of managing costs and growing their businesses. How UK businesses respond to these short and long term opportunities and challenges will determine their own and the UK’s future success.

Business and government have the opportunity to work together to help current and future employees develop skills that keep pace with technological change. Creating the next generation of skilled workers as well as attracting and retaining talent will be essential in a post-Brexit world.

Many businesses are already focused on modernising working environments, introducing flexible working and implementing continuous learning and development programmes.

The more that small businesses take the lead and innovate, the greater the likelihood that the region will maintain its competitive position on the UK stage. 

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