Charlie Mullins: it looks like the skills gap is finally being covered

One of those things has to be finding the right employees – or finding them at all.

Plumber’s maths will tell you that we still have two million people unemployed, but businesses have positions to fill.  However, the variable that’s glaringly missing from that equation is, of course, skills.  

Without the right training and skills it can only ever be a case of square pegs in round holes and, as such, firms will struggle to grow their businesses preventing them from creating further opportunities for more employment.

At Pimlico Plumbers, we’re absolutely flat out at the moment and that’s coming before winter, traditionally our busiest season of the year. 

To meet this demand we’re currently trying to recruit experienced plumbers, but there just aren’t that many out there.  This is due to a lack of investment in practical, vocational training over the last two decades, which has only started to change in the last three or four years.

But the legacy of that lack of investment is hitting businesses like mine hard.  Any skilled trade-based business, from the engineers at Boeing and the builders at Barratt Homes to small metal-bashing fabricators and little landscaping firms, are feeling the effects of the skills shortage. 

The best option, of course, is to invest at the ground floor and turn school kids onto a career in the skilled trades. 

But firms have been sceptical about this because the education system has not turned out the quality of potential employees they want.  The survey by the British Chamber of Commerce last week backed this up saying that nine out of ten businesses thought school leavers were not ready for employment.

Without greater collaboration between businesses and education this’ll never change.  It’s the workplace skills that are the most important and these are exactly what apprenticeships develop in skilled careers.

However, I think last week was a turning point and a few of the bricks we’ve been smacking our heads against were taken out of the wall.  The few days I spent at the Conservative Party Conference meeting influential politicians, as well as the people I spoke to when I made my debut on the BBC’s Question Time, showed me there is a real appetite for a change to the way we educate and train our young people. 

At the very top, the Prime Minister targeted eradicating youth unemployment in the next five years and committed more cash for apprenticeships.

In fact, the pledge the David Cameron made, which I wrote about on Real Business last week, to take benefits away from school leavers to fund apprenticeships will give the country a double advantage. 

Firstly, and most importantly, it will deliver £300m to create more apprenticeships, which will help ensure we don’t end up with another skills shortage in ten years time.  

But it should also make those delivering secondary and further education think extra hard about the skills and abilities they teach their students to make sure the kids are work-ready and don’t end falling into the no-benefits gap.

Charlie Mullins is the archetypal entrepreneur having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise.

From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, Charlie left school with no qualifications, but after a four year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £18m and boasts many well known names among its many clients.

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