We must ensure future workforce has the right skills

It’s hard to predict the future, but it’s imperative that business tries to prepare for it.

As we enter a new decade, major issues such as Brexit, the climate emergency and ever-evolving technology present both challenges and opportunities for our workforce and employers.

These are critical issues we need to address now. By raising the game on leadership within our business community we can make sure existing and future employees have the right skills to thrive in the workplace and help the wider economy.

In a good example of collaboration and joined up working, an event this month, being organised jointly by Inverness Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors Highlands and Inverness College UHI will examine the current situation and explore potential solutions.

The event on 26 February will bring together business and educational leaders and facilitate a panel discussion on the shifting world of work and the skills needed to help the future workforce thrive.

Employers have long called for help in filling skills gaps to allow staff to be better equipped for modern day and future work.

A recent economic survey by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce showed that firms in the construction, financial and business services, retail and wholesale and tourism sectors all indicated they were seeking to take on new staff. However, between 37-50 per cent of these firms said they faced recruitment difficulties.   

Also, a Skills Development Scotland regional skills assessment report for the Highlands and Islands showed that in 2018, skills shortages were estimated to have cost Scottish employers £361.3millon, roughly £17,000 per organisation.

Overall, 6.1 per cent of the workforce in the Highlands and Islands had a skills gap in 2017, while the number of employers reporting at least one skills shortage vacancy in the region was seven per cent, compared to six per cent for Scotland.

At the same time, a need to upskill employees in the next 12 months was anticipated by 70 per cent of employers, with operational and digital skills the most commonly mentioned areas.

Last year the Scottish Government announced the Future Skills Action Plan, which includes £10 million of additional funding for those already in work through doubling the Flexible Workforce Development Fund. This is aimed at ensuring Scotland has a skilled and productive workforce which is resilient to future economic challenges.

It includes plans to increase upskilling and retraining opportunities to help address skills gaps and shortages in response to Brexit and proposals to provide the skills investment needed to meet the global climate change challenge.

Local authorities also have strategic partnerships and associated plans in place to address the skills challenges, including Skills Investment Plans which inform local boards and report to the Convention of the Highlands and Islands.

Money will be made available to the City and Growth Deals, building on work to develop and deliver skills investment plans in each region.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce is already working on a number of fronts to improve skills and training. Inverness College UHI is a key partner in delivering Developing the Young Workforce programme, which forms part of the Scottish Government’s Youth Employment strategy. The college has partnerships with 400 employers with around 600 apprentices and its close relationship with industry helps ensure graduates have the skills and knowledge to succeed.

In addition, the chamber is well placed to support a number of sectors through the Open4Business Highlands and Islands online portal in getting the skills needed for forthcoming employment opportunities.

Delivering the right skills and training are the foundation stones on which we build a confident, flexible, inclusive and resilient workforce and therefore a sustainable economy. It will help us adapt to change, whether that is the advance of science and digital technology, an ageing population or the need to make our working and domestic lives more environmentally friendly.

Collaboration is essential in tackling this issue and events like the one this month are not only important for future business, they are becoming increasingly necessary.