UK employers are shunning traditional school qualifications, according to new research by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). AAT surveyed 105 finance directors and finance managers across the UK to find out more about employers attitudes, and found out that only 22 per cent of business leaders believe qualifications are an important factor when considering who to hire. Instead, 88 per cent focus on candidates’ skills.But if they’re only employed for experience, how can job seekers gain the hands-on skills they need to succeed in business? Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise, argued that employers and employees alike are faced with a Catch 22: “The problem is that companies strapped for cash can’t spend time training inexperienced employees, and will therefore take the person who is better qualified through having already learned in the work place.” While SMEs face severe challenges, AAT found that there is still quite a lot of commitment from employers for training and developing their staff. Gary Martin, director of Martin Construction highlights the financial constraints placed on SMEs: “As we all know, it’s completely dried up. Any lending that is being done is given to established companies. It doesn’t even matter how long you have been in business – which causes a problem for people trying to start businesses at the moment.” Surprisingly though, the research showed that more than a quarter of employers expect to increase training budgets next year. Michael Mercieca believes that “the headline findings are quite encouraging” and suggests that the commitment to training is increasing. “[Business leaders] seem to more sympathetic in a time of economic difficulty.” Nearly half of business leaders would like training to focus more on podcasts and vodcasts, formats familiar to younger recruits. But these options should not be seen as a quick fix or easy way out. “We make a lot of assumptions about [the importance of qualifications], and we were quite keen to see if these assumptions stood up to research; particularly at a time when we know the economy is still in difficulties,” Jane Scott-Paul explained. “We need to recognise the challenges facing employers. Small businesses are under great pressure as their ability to release people to learn is harder. Training is much easier for larger employers and SMEs find it difficult to have their voices heard; and as a result risk the solutions that are found are much more geared up the needs to large employers. We have to find a way of helping SMEs articulate what they need, finding a way of giving them what they need, and not leaving them so they feel marginalised.” There is light at the end of the tunnel: AAT’s positive findings show business leaders are open to addressing the problem. SMEs clearly want to bridge the gap between candidates wanting experience and wanting to hire individuals with experience, despite obvious financial constraints.
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