Sunday, May 19, 2024

Chamber highlights need for skills support in South Yorkshire

With A level results almost due, Doncaster Chamber of Commerce has highlighted the need for greater skills support in South Yorkshire, at a time Chamber Chief Exec Dan Fell describes as challenging for those entering the world of work.

He said: “Many of these young people will undoubtedly have bright futures ahead of them — new evidence suggests that it might be quite challenging for them to enter the modern workplace, when that time eventually comes.

“Our recently-published South Yorkshire Local Skills Improvement Plan has exposed a number of areas where our region is under-supplied in terms of talent. Specifically, the document highlights how demand for digital skills (like data processing, social media and web content management) is at an all-time high, and is only set to grow further, employers are actually struggling to recruit people with this relevant expertise. In December 2022, for example, the second highest proportion of vacancies in South Yorkshire was for specialist IT professionals.”

Drawing upon extensive research and diagnostic interviews with thousands of businesses, the LSIP found that digital skills are becoming near-universal requirements, essential for roughly two-thirds of all occupations. Despite this, many young people are still leaving education without the technical know-how that businesses need.

This has created a huge skills gap in South Yorkshire, as 50% of employers consulted for the LSIP said that they cannot find individuals with a good handle on data processing, and one third of skills shortage vacancies in the region are directly caused by a lack of digital skills. What’s more, businesses maintained that the young people they do employ are often not ready for the digital aspects of their job.

Although this might seem like a rather bleak outlook, the LSIP does offer a solution to this problem, by breaking down how the existing skills system can be improved to better meet the needs of employers. Covering everything from how businesses can engage more closely with education & training providers, right through to the need for alternative pathways and accessing hidden talent, the document makes 36 practical recommendations for closing the skills gap here in South Yorkshire.

Mr Fell added: “As an organisation that represents businesses, we have always understood the importance of cultivating future talent and encouraging the next generation to be ambitious and work ready.

“However, it is sad to say that the odds are currently stacked against them. As our LSIP research lays bare, many young people nowadays are leaving education without the skills that local employers are actually looking for. Particularly when it comes to things like digital marketing, web content management and data science.

“Indeed, computing and IT subjects now account for less than 2% of A-Level entries in our region and 5% of higher education enrolments. Meanwhile, GCSE Computer Science is not even offered in two-fifths of secondary schools, with teacher shortages being cited as a key issue here. Suffice it to say, the situation is concerning and we run the risk of South Yorkshire getting left behind if we don’t treat it as a priority.

“Fortunately, the LSIP — which has recently been signed off by the Secretary of State for Education — offers a way forward, with 36 practical recommendations for turning things around. Some of the solutions will take longer to implement than others, and we obviously don’t expect seismic change to occur overnight, but we are confident that if the relevant stakeholders heed what it says, then we can get on top of this pressing issue.

“There are recommendations here for how education providers should respond to the skills gap that has been articulated by employers, for key policy reforms and programmatic changes that will also help and, of course, for things that organisations like the Chamber can take responsibility for. There is certainly a lot to be getting on with, but we cannot afford to squander this opportunity.”

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