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Charlie Mullins: Failure to address skills gap is sapping the economy

If the last couple of decades have taught us anything it’s that a lack of investment in practical, vocational education has left the country with a severe shortage of skills in a lot of places that can actually drive the economy forward.

To business owners, the future is about having the perfect mix of people, skills, technology and entrepreneurial drive to make their enterprise a success. Without the right people and skills, that equation is very lopsided.

And for the realists, of whom I am one, the future is very much in the here and now. This was brought into clear sight by a recent survey by The Princes Trust and HSBC into the skills gap.

The most shocking thing about the report into the rapidly approaching skills gap meltdown is that the 75% of businesses that recognise the problem, four out of ten believe we have already reached crisis point. I am well and truly in that camp.

Of the 600 business leaders interviewed, 68% convinced that skills shortages would throw a spanner in the works of our economic recovery, and again I can’t help but to be among them.

We will continue to grow economically – the work is out there, ask anyone in the building, manufacturing or services sectors. But as we increasingly need to import skills to get the work done, with every foreign tradesman employed, we pass up the opportunity to take a UK citizen out of welfare dependence.

This is not a xenophobic argument it’s an economic one. Employers need skilled labour, and if there’s work, and economic growth, which leads to more work, they will find it from the open market, be that in Europe or further afield. All the while as a nation we are paying to support people who could themselves be supporting and enhancing the economy.

Truth is for every day that we fail to address our skills gap we attach a little more lead to our economy, leaving us with an ever increasing welfare bill, sapping today’s economy and hamstringing tomorrow’s.

The ramifications of this report do seem, however, to have been missed by Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

Apparently she believes that parents should let their children follow their passions even if it means choosing a Mickey Mouse degree course at university.

Now Im all for encouraging kids to follow their dreams, but they have to be tempered with a dose of realism every now and again.

University education has its place, but it should only exist to serve the betterment of the country and not just to let kids spend three-years studying surfing or the philology of Star Wars.

The same is true of vocational education; we need to provide training in the industries that need it. And, if we get them working together in tandem and get people in influential positions like Curnock Cook to live in the real world we might just be able to overcome the skills gap.

Charlie Mullins is the CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers



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