Shepway Skills Survey

The results of the first Employer Survey carried out by Folkestone and Hythe District Council about skills, staff retention and recruitment has been completed. The main results emerging from the businesses participating are:

Employment trends
• Some 47% of businesses reported that their workforce had increased in numbers over the previous 12 months
• Some 21% reported a decrease over the same period.

• Eight out of ten employers had recruited over the previous 12 months either to new jobs or to fill vacancies from staff turnover with the highest number
• The highest number of vacancies were in administration and clerical positions but a significant number of opportunities arose in senior positions including Director and professional roles
• The types of roles most difficult to fill were senior management, professional and skilled trades
• Most businesses (72%) were intending to recruit over the forthcoming 12 months

Staff retention
• Three-quarters of employers experienced no significant problems in retaining employees
• Staff retention difficulties mainly arose in areas such as process, plant and machinery operators, administration and sales/customer services
• Main difficulties in retaining staff were identified as shortage of people skilled in this type of work, unsocial hours and better remuneration packages being offered by other organisations

Skill requirements
• Skills required by employers seemed to focus on two main levels: general education eg. GCSE A*-C (49%) and degree level (35%)
• A need was also identified at A-level and HNC standards
• More than half of the businesses arranged ‘on the job’ training
• Businesses (54%) offered ‘day release’ training or apprenticeships
• About a third of businesses offered access to online training
• Some 89% of respondents had trained two or more employees over the preceding 12 months and 11% had trained more than 25 employees

Apprenticeships and professional qualifications
• Some 45% of employers felt well informed about modern apprenticeships
• A third knew about training for industrial and professional qualifications including higher apprenticeships
• Much fewer knew about degree apprenticeships
• Some (41%) did not feel well informed about any type of apprenticeship
• A third of employers employed apprentices

• A substantial majority of employers (88%) were satisfied with their training provider with 53% being very satisfied
• The top three reasons for not offering training for employees were: no need as all employees were proficient in their roles (40%); no training available in relevant subject area (32%); and learning is achieved through experience (32%).
• About two-thirds of employers were considering offering apprenticeships and a quarter of employers were extremely likely to offer apprenticeships over the next 12 months.

The main conclusions from the survey were that local employers were positive about employment growth and found it relatively easy to retain staff except for lower-skilled jobs where employees were seeking improved employment prospects. The results suggested a notable polarisation of skill requirements between GCSE level and degree-level and perhaps a challenge is developing pathways for progression between these two skill levels. Whilst there seemed a reasonable level of understanding amongst employers of the modern apprenticeship scheme and professional training, new apprenticeship schemes to degree-level were less well understood. Consequently, in addition to modern apprenticeships, there seems a need to better promote the higher-level apprenticeship schemes which seem less well known but could provide pathways to higher skills. Shepway seemed to be in a good position to address issues identified as the vast majority of employers were satisfied with local training providers such as East Kent College. Whilst the employment market seems stable and businesses find it easy to retain staff, the local jobs growth over the preceding 12 months and projected for the next 12 months suggests recruitment could become more difficult which may lead to an even greater attention on training-up current employees to fill the vacancies more difficult to fill.

The survey was of small-medium sized businesses employing up to 250 people. Some 74 businesses responded representing nearly 5% of the businesses invited to participate. The survey was intended to provide a local perspective to research being undertaken regionally by the SE LEP and other organisations. The main finding s have been reported to the Shepway Business Advisory Board and have also formed the basis of discussion with East Kent College to extend its local offer.

The nature of the survey meant there was some 30 questions to answers and the participation of local businesses across Shepway is greatly appreciated. It will form a base-line for future surveys expected to be carried out on an annual basis.