The Employer Skills Survey has thrown up some interesting statistics about the state of the UK economy and its hunger for trained workers. Michael Davis looks at the survey in more depth and asks what the findings mean for UK plc.

There’s no questioning the robustness of a survey that interviews more than 90,000 respondents. But like all statistics, the story isn’t so much in what we know; it’s what we think we can surmise.

So what do we think this report tells us about the opportunities and threats facing FE?

Recruitment is increasing. Given recent news about the growth of the economy, it’s
no surprise that employment opportunities are up.

This will obviously provide employers with recruitment challenges. But more interesting will be the shift in mindset employers will need to make — from one which has (understandably) focused on survival to one more which looks to growth, and retaining and attracting talent as part of that.

We know that training is a key component of the workplace offer, demonstrating the value and ambition of the business, and enabling businesses to differentiate themselves to potential employees.

We also know that what young people want from a job is changing, and working for an ethical, responsible employer which contributes to society is becoming increasingly important.

Colleges have a great opportunity to develop new and lasting relationships with business, helping them build their reputation as a good place to work by supporting them to make training a core component of their workforce offer.

But skills shortages are also increasing — fast.

The FE sector has a way to go before it can claim to be cutting-edge, so there’s a clear opportunity here

The growth in vacancies that can’t be filled because people do not have the required skills has risen twice as quickly as the growth in overall vacancies.

More than one-in-five vacancies is proving difficult to fill for skills reasons, up from one-in-six in 2011.

Colleges (and awarding bodies) that can harness labour market intelligence and work with employers to develop credible courses and curricula will be well placed to develop their offer and fill these skill shortage vacancies.

Workplace training is up — and down. Encouragingly, the proportion of employers providing training (65 per cent) has remained constant over the last two years, despite the recession.

However, the economic downturn has bought about changes in the nature of investment.

While the proportion of people receiving training has increased over the past two years, the total amount employers invest in training has fallen by £2.5bn.

Employers are becoming more thrifty, often turning to alternative providers
and choosing cheaper delivery methods, such as in-house and technology-based training.

The debate about learning technology in FE is well underway and there are pockets of good practice. But in honesty, the FE sector has a way to go before it can claim to be cutting-edge, so there’s a clear opportunity here.

The value of training is understood. The majority of employers (71 per cent) say they will need to upgrade the skills or knowledge of their staff in the next 12 months.

Despite this (and by their own admission) employers are not meeting their own investment appetite.

A sizeable minority of them (42 per cent) want to provide more training. Getting the offer right and taking the complexity out of the system for employers may enable colleges to unlock this latent demand.

Over the coming weeks and months the UK Commission for Employment and Skills will be releasing of a series of “evidence toolkits” providing detailed data for individual nations of the UK, as well as for local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.

We will also be doing further analysis of the findings and identifying a series of topics for more in-depth analysis.

But like all research, the value lies not in the numbers, but in what you make of them.

By interrogating this data and mashing it with other research, we can expect to gain further insights.

We are committed to making the datasets from this and other research freely accessible via our “LMI for All” tool later this spring. Visit our website — www.ukces.org.uk — for more information on this, or any other aspect of our work.

Michael Davis, chief executive, UK Commission for Employment and Skills