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Addressing the skills gap in workforces today

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Research from the Hays Global Skills Index has highlighted some of the real skills issues facing employers and employees across 27 countries.

As reported in HR magazine last week, the research reinforces the view Europe is suffering from a skills mismatch, with high unemployment and a lack of skilled workers to fill the gaps, which already exist. The most severe skills shortages are in engineering, IT, utilities and construction and the Index rightly points out the provision of skilled labour is crucial.

And on Monday the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released a report looking at schools and what needs to change to build a strong, stable and successful education system from the early years to 18 and beyond. The report looks at many areas of schooling - such as the curriculum, assessment and leadership - and argues for a long-term solution so the UK has the workforce it needs to compete in the decades ahead.

Both reports give a sobering assessment of the challenges, which must be overcome in order to promote economic growth in both the short and long term.

The UK needs the skilled engineers and IT professionals to drive the jobs of the future. However we also need to be careful not to disregard the issue of core skills and key basic competencies such as maths and English. Seven million adults in England can't read and write at the level expected of an 11-year-old and a fifth of adults in the UK don't have basic numeracy skills - figures which still have the capacity to shock. These skills underpin so much other learning and development, which enables the UK's workforce to remain at its most productive. It's vital these skills form a part of the overall picture. The Government's move to functional skills is a step in the right direction but it has to be delivered in a way, which works for businesses.

Within the economic climate, companies can see training and professional development as a big overhead requiring a great deal of commitment. With resources strained, it's important we continue to harness the power of technology to produce new and innovative ways for businesses to improve the skills of their staff in a flexible and cost effective way.

It's great to see this progress but there is still more to be done, as the CBI makes clear. For me, as for many people both in the skills sector and as employers, there are still many questions, which we need to address before we can build the system we need to compete globally. I'll start the debate by considering just a few:

· How can we get real employer engagement in ensuring training and development creates real improvements in productivity and individuals' abilities and knowledge?

· Is there too much of a focus on the breadth of skills required at the expense of the depth, especially in areas like apprenticeships?

· Taking up a theme from the CBI: how can we create education and training programmes which embed those personal characteristics and values - like determination, self-control, creativity and ambition - which employers value so highly, especially among those now in the workforce?

· With personal mobiles and tablet devices now becoming an affordable commodity for all - what do we need from education and training provision to take the most advantage of this to provide flexible learning for employers?

Dereth Wood is director of operations at learndirect and panelist on HR magazine live TV web debate. It will bring together experts to discuss practical steps to transform the skills and productivity of the UK's working age population.

To register for our LIVE HR Lunchtime Debate on 27 November 2012 at 13.00 please click here