Employment and Skills - Perceptions
Report Segment: Changing Perceptions
Many of the sector’s skills problems stem from it being perceived as a ‘poor’ employer. These perceptions arise because, in the main, employment in the sector has, in the recent past been characterised by: relatively low wages; unsocial working hours and patterns of work; weak equal opportunities policies; poor or non-existent career structures; informal recruitment systems; a lack of formalised, sophisticated systems of human resource management; lack of any significant trade union presence; and high levels of labour turnover. The sector’s poor record on training is, in large part, a reflection of these structural characteristics. However things are improving. In 2004 People 1st reported that 22% of the workforce had no qualifications according to the sector skills council - People First’s Market Assessment 2004. (p.33). This now stands at 12% (People 1st National Skills Strategy 2010 p. 15).
The sector is diverse and especially fragmented at the SME level. It is therefore important to be able to identify the characteristics of the SME sector and to pinpoint those companies who have not in the past engaged with the support framework around them. Small businesses whose staff (including the owner-manager) are in need of training and development support may be found across the two counties. Needs range from entrepreneurial guidance or mentoring to very basic skills for life such as numeracy, literacy or language skills. Many staff in the sector have either no or below level 2 qualifications. Given the perceptions of the sector as a low pay low aspiration economy, people in the workforce tend to put up with their lot, and employers are reluctant to invest in their staff who tend to leave at greater frequency than other industries.
What can change this cycle of neglect? Actively pursuing ‘needy’ businesses would be a good start; getting out to meet café and restaurant owners, struggling pubs and lifestyle B&Bs trying to remain in business but not quite knowing how to reach their market. The challenge is immense – particularly because training is not a buzz word for success. Equally, there is a perception that colleges only waste busy people’s time, providing courses which are at best irrelevant, at worst poorly delivered, at inconvenient times and places. Colleges in Norfolk and Suffolk, however, have often risen to the challenge of engaging the workforce and there are many examples of good practice – shorter demand led courses, flexible locations and times and a greater appreciation that there is a need to treat business clients differently from the core 16 – 19 age group which the FE sector serves.