The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has become the latest organisation to warn of a skills crisis across Britain and of the urgent need to address it with workable solutions. Their Skills & Employment Manifesto seeks to “break the cycle of different organisations and sectors blaming each other, and instead identifies solutions”. One of the most urgent priorities, according to the report, is careers education: “Young people should leave the education system with a career direction that is relevant to them, realistic expectations about entry level jobs, and the attitude, passion, skills and experience that employers want. This demands an education and training route that meets the needs of local labour markets as well as the informed personal aspirations of individuals.”
This report comes hot on the heels of another warning, this time from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). Their recent survey of 91,000 employers — Skills for Sustainable Recovery — found that one in five vacancies were down to a poor skills base and that 146,200 job vacancies went unfilled last year because of inadequate skills.
We have written a good deal on this subject in recent months (here, here & here), especially how Labour Market Information (LMI) can be used as part of a solution to this problem. What we haven’t done in those previous pieces, however, is to give clear examples of how LMI can actually be harnessed in the area of careers guidance to help provide a solution to the current crisis.
One of the basic issues that is coming up time and time again is that young people are simply not getting good careers information that will put them on a path which is both beneficial to them in terms of learning the right skills to get sustainable careers, and to employers in terms of having a wider talent pool of skilled workers to choose from.
So let’s say I am a 14 or 15-year-old with little or no idea what to do with my life, much less how I get on and do it. What do I do? I may have some idea what I would like to do and even some idea of what I am good at, but there are a number of things that I don’t know, which prevent me from making an informed decision. These include:
1. If I decide to train in a certain area, are there likely to be any jobs at the end of my training?
2. What salary can I expect to earn?
3. What qualifications do I need to learn in order to perform the job I want to do?
4. What happens if I train for one thing and can’t get a job? Will the skills I learn be easily transferrable to other occupations?
So let’s say I have a vague interest in becoming a plumber. The first thing I want to know is if I train in this area, are there likely to be any jobs at the end of it. The graph below shows information for plumber, heating or ventilating engineer taken from our Career Coach tool at Chichester College, and so uses LMI from the West Sussex region:As you can see, the number of plumbers employed in the West Sussex region rose from 2009 to 2010, before falling to pre-2009 levels in 2011. But crucially our data also shows predicted trends for plumbing occupations, based on historic trends in the region, with the numbers of people employed in plumbing occupations set to remain fairly stable over the next few years. So if I happen to be in the West Sussex region, training to become a plumber could well be a viable career path.
But what about wages? It’s all very well knowing that there might be occupations out there at the end of any training I might do, but I’m also going to want to know how much money I might expect to earn. This is important not just from the point of view of seeing how much money I might end up earning at the high-end, but also that I might get a realistic expectation of wages available at entry level. We often hear anecdotal evidence of how much so-and-so earns in their particular job, but we don’t always reckon with the fact that so-and-so has a vast amount of experience and that it has taken them years to get to the point where they can earn that kind of money. Understanding the entire range of wages earned by plumbers out there is therefore important if I am to pursue that career, which is why we have incorporated this data into our system. The following graph shows the entry level to high-end wages earned by plumbers in the West Sussex region:
So having seen that there are likely to be opportunities for plumbers over the next few years, and having seen the wages earned by plumbers in my region, what now? The next thing I need to know is how I get on and gain the necessary skills to become a plumber. We have built into Career Coach a link between career aspirations and relevant courses on offer at the local Further Education College. The details below, again taken from Chichester College’s Career Coach, show just some of the relevant courses available at the college. So for example, the most relevant course for an aspiring plumber is City & Guilds 6129 Certificate in Basic Plumbing Studies Level 2 which is, according to the Chichester College website, “an ideal starting point for students wishing to become a fully qualified plumber”:
By this stage, I know three things: likely occupation trends, wages and courses I need to do to become a plumber. However, there is of course always the possibility that after training I might still not be able to get a job in this particular field. What then? The answer is not “signing on the dole” but rather “transferrable skills”. If, having completed a course and learnt the requisite skills, I find out that there are no plumbing jobs within a reasonable distance, my next question ought to be, “What is the next best occupation I can do using the skills I have learnt”.
We have adapted a US occupation classification system for the UK — O*NET — which allows us to see this clearly. The O*NET system basically matches the knowledge and skills in one occupation with those required in other occupations, showing which alternative occupations best match a person’s existing knowledge and skill set.
As a prospective plumber in West Sussex, there are a variety of other occupations that come up as having a fairly similar skill set to plumbing. For example, labourer, scaffolder, floorer or wall tiler, glazier and sheet metal worker. Now let’s say that of these occupations, the only one I am interested in is sheet metal worker. The following charts compare the transferrable skills between plumber and sheet metal worker, with the chart on the left showing what I would need to train up on as a plumber in order to become a sheet metal worker:
In this case, the two areas that I would need the most training in would be mathematics and production and processing. At this stage, I could then repeat the exercise I have gone through for plumber, checking the occupation trends for sheet metal workers, the wages I could earn in that occupation, and the courses I would need to complete to attain the right skills.
The skills gap is not going to disappear any time soon, and may very well get worse before it gets better. However, whilst we are not claiming that LMI is the whole answer, it can certainly play a major part in any long term solution. Armed with the type of information shown above, young people no longer have to rely on subjective feelings as to what they want to do with their lives, nor on false assumptions about what might be a good, sustainable career. Rather, LMI gives them objective information about occupations, wages, courses and transferrable skills, enabling them to make good decisions which will not only benefit them, but which will ultimately provide employers with the skilled workers they so desperately need.