Skills gaps ‘are limiting growth’ of Black Country businesses

Skills gaps are limiting growth in Black Country businesses, both in terms of capacity and leadership, business leaders in the region have said.

An audience at the University of Wolverhampton Science Park heard from a panel who highlighted some of the challenges companies are facing as they seek to plan for the future and develop.

Prof Ian Oakes, deputy vice-chancellor at University of Wolverhampton, said: “There are two skills gaps. One is technical skills, associated with particular sectors, created by a lack of young people coming into those sectors and also an ageing workforce which hasn’t been appropriately replaced.

“Also, and it appears to be a characteristic of smaller firms, the lack of leadership and management skills to help them grow the businesses in the future.”

“There are skills gaps in most areas,” said Gareth Jones, managing director at In-Comm Training. “If we look at the thirst for growth, that’s where this is coming from, all of a sudden companies are wanting to scale up but they don’t have the foundations in terms of skills to be able to do that.

“Organisations are having to take the skills base out of another company to put it into theirs and are not plugging the gap from the foundations.”

There are some companies who are looking ahead to where their skills challenges will be, argued chief executive of Manufacturing Matters, Paul Cadman.

He said: “If you look at Jaguar Land Rover’s growth strategy, they know where they are going to be in 5, 10, 15 years’ time. They are talking about 2-3,000 engineers specifically to do all of that in 15 years’ time.

“In 15 years’ time the people we are talking to might be five year-olds now. We should be ensuring we are with 10-12 year-old children talking about engineering, talking about opportunities, to feed that.”

Ninder Johal, a board member at the Black Country LEP, agreed the region has “a defined skills deficit across all sectors”.

He said: “It will be interesting to see how businesses react over the next three years with Brexit.

“Some of those gaps were filled by Europeans and I’m thinking particularly of hospitality, care services and agriculture. How do they bridge that gap and what can they do over the next three years? The big question is to what extent is the host countries’ inhabitants prepared to take those places and have we got the training in place.”