Report Segment: Conclusions
This report has attempted to sketch out the issues relating to the skills economy in Norfolk. It has shown that many of the issues are complex and there are rarely simple solutions. Supply and demand factors always need further clarification to determine what the supply actually relates to, and whose demand it is we’re talking about (employers; government’s; employees; pre-work students etc..). The report has hopefully demonstrated that there is a key difference between skills gaps and skills shortages and that these need to be treated differently. Skills shortages are rare and difficult to predict or overcome without potentially causing an over-supply of a particular skill. Employers react to changes in labour supply with understandable concern but this is sometimes translated into a skills shortage problem when it is usually a local (and possibly temporary) problem.
On the supply side, it is clear that there is some very good practice in employer engagement. Both the universities and the colleges have excellent track records in areas of workforce development, however there are still many obstacles to overcome in terms of engaging SMEs and micro businesses – who are so important for the county’s economic development. As the brief business survey showed, there are many small businesses who have no interest in training beyond compliance. How can colleges play a greater role in reaching out to this disengaged sector? Many small businesses tend to ‘firefight’ and react to market conditions rather than plan strategically for the future. But to understand the small business person’s mindset really requires direct experience of being a small business and few people in the public sector support network have that experience or knowledge. So bridges need to be built which will encourage small businesses to consider new ways of working, to think the unthinkable – and put training and development at the top of their agenda. But it can only happen if the training is flexible and relevant to their needs – if not it will simply cement the old view that the whole public sector offer is a waste of time.
The report sets the tone for a series of sector studies which will involve both employers and training providers – sharing the good practice that is evident throughout the county, applying successful models of engagement & delivery to other sectors and geographical areas – and where necessary, challenging both sides to do things differently and build a thriving skills economy.