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How trade associations can help plug skills gaps

We live in uncertain, highly competitive times. This is very well illustrated by the severe skills gaps and low productivity that plague nearly every commercial sector in the UK.

While construction, engineering, manufacturing and IT companies, to name but a few, have the potential to add huge firepower to the nation’s economy, widening national staff shortages present formidable barriers to growth.

With unemployment at its lowest since 1975, many businesses have found that demand often outstrips supply when hiring qualified, experienced staff. Indeed, a recent Open University survey found that almost all firms said it had been difficult to find workers with the skills they need. Many of them reported that they had had to pay “well over the market rate” to attract employees as the shortage worsened over the past year.

The OU calculated that the situation is costing employers £2bn a year.

As a result, they no longer simply compete with each other for customers, but also for a precious, dwindling human resource. In a fiercely predatory recruitment landscape, where staff are ever more aware of their marketability, employers must establish themselves as destinations of choice. Then, they must work hard to retain workers who have never been better placed to jump ship if unhappy.

Plugging the skills gap with apprenticeships

Powerful solutions to the problem include firms nurturing and developing their own talent pools, with apprenticeship schemes an excellent route for employers to do this. Managed properly, they can boost a company’s skills base and create a committed, able and highly competitive workforce.

The role of trade associations is significant here, as not only can they help deliver apprenticeships but, crucially, educate their members on their importance and the recent reforms that have presented a host of fresh opportunities.

As part of their commitment to engendering best practice and to raising industry standards, they can communicate the benefits of apprenticeship schemes - encouraging companies not to miss out on the wealth of support and guidance available to help them to attract and retain the workforce of the future and fill skills gaps. These have been boosted by the recently enacted apprenticeship levy, which will finance new schemes and hand control of their funding to employers through The Apprenticeship Scheme (TAS). Its aim is to encourage employers to utilise apprenticeships more, as part of their wider learning and development strategy.

Trade associations can be a powerful force for bringing together and representing the needs of a wide range of employers - not just the small number that sit on the Trailblazer groups. Here, ‘trailblazers’ work together to devise and develop a new apprenticeship standard that works best for them and delivers the skills they need.

The associations help members who have yet to get to grips with Trailblazer initiatives share the benefits. They work with them to identify the job roles and qualifications that will give them best competitive advantage. For example, many companies are unaware of T-levels - new technical qualifications designed to simplify the process of vocational training in England and make emerging talent ‘work fit’ to join key industries.


NOCN working in partnership with trade associations

NOCN supports many progressive trade associations in bringing about positive outcomes for both employers and individuals. An example of a proactive, vibrant organisation that has worked very hard for its members on apprenticeships is the Credit Services Association (CSA).

The CSA is the UK’s national association for companies in the debt collection and purchase industry. It has more than 400 members who represent 90% of the industry and employ 15,000 people between them.

It is creating relevant apprenticeships for all members with the aim of establishing a centre of excellence to support their needs and allow them to extract maximum benefit from the £15,000 apprenticeship levy allowance. The CSA provides easily understood employer guides to apprenticeships, which spell out their advantages and business’ rights and responsibilities and signposts organisations that can help them establish meaningful, useful schemes.

It also organises educational webinars, meetings and other events for members, where they can ask questions and receive updates on latest developments.

We have worked closely with CSA and other trade bodies for a number of years. It’s part of our mission to provide employers with expert advice and guidance on the development and delivery of apprenticeships that are best suited to meet the challenges – and opportunities – of these turbulent, fast-changing times.