Rural Economy - Skills Base
Report Segment: Skills Base
Its difficult to describe the supply and demand of skills in the rural economy in Norfolk and Suffolk without sounding contradictory. On the one hand there are few skills gaps or shortages, on the other there is a skills crisis just waiting to happen. How can both of these views be true?
On the 'do nothing' side, the rural economy is less reliant on indigenous labour than ever before. Not only are complex machines (e.g. combine harvesters) doing the work of many labourers but migrant labour from Europe is plentiful. Add to this the fact that young indigenous students appear to have little appetite for work in any parts of the rural economy and one might well conclude that there is nothing to be done.
However this wouldn't be telling the whole story. Both the RDP training programme run by LandSkills East and the Beyond 2010 Programme administered by Food East attest to the huge demand for industry courses. Businesses from the rural economy are as keen as ever to up-skill, develop better management skills, and keep ahead of the legislative requirements for health, safety, pesticide control, animal welfare and other areas. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many businesses in food, drink or farming are keen to recruit multi skilled engineers but find it difficult to find such skilled personnel.
Apprenticeships too, are popular among agricultural businesses and Easton College has suggested a new model of delivery which will benefit the students, the businesses and the college; teaching on site at Easton for two terms and spending the final term (Easter) entirely at the farm is surely a good step forward. So whilst a ‘do nothing’ approach is the least ambitious and the least costly, a more interventionist approach could substantially grow the Norfolk and Suffolk rural economy. This could include a series of actions around multi-skilling engineers. The demand from businesses is evident. Although the ONS figures for October 2011 show that there are almost three times as many jobs sought as there are vacancies in Norfolk and Suffolk (29,885 sought & 11,363 vacancies notified), it is important to note that multi-skilled engineers consistently come up as a need among employers.
Recent figures from ONS suggest that there is a large number of unemployed engineers from all disciplines. As the graph below shows there are currently not enough jobs to go around and almost every category shows a deficit measured by the difference between vacancies notified and positions sought. The one engineering discipline which shows a significant surplus of jobs (more vacancies notified than positions sought) is electrical and electronics engineers.