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    Employers have voiced their concerns over the negative impact of skills shortages in the retail sector through a recent survey, it was announced yesterday.

    The poll has found that most employers fear that 2006 will see them hampered by a lack of skilled workers to fill their vacancies. Furthermore, there are concerns over the skills levels of the existing workforce on the part of almost four out of five of the respondents. Fear of competition might be expected to encourage them to meet this shortage through involvement in training programmes, but the poll also reveals that a little over 10 % of the employers are actually involved in such a scheme.

    The Feedback

    The figures make for stark reading for both the FE sector hoping to tackle skills shortages across the workforce and for the employers. 72% of those asked predicted that their business will be threatened in 2006 by a lack of skilled personnel to fill recruitment needs. An even greater proportion (79%) believe that their competitive position in the marketplace suffers from the skills gaps in their present workforce.

    One of the greatest single fears of the retail sector was competitiveness (alongside issues such as online shopping and falling customer spending), with 90% expressing their concerns on this. One in four (26% to be precise) of those surveyed expect that they will fail to meet business targets in the next financial year, which certainly paints a grim picture for those suffering from rising overheads and falling customer participation.

    Failure to Act

    There is a broad level of support for vocational learning amongst the employers. An impressive 82% supporting vocational training provision. This figure is higher than in any other business sector. A further 87% believe that there is a clear link between training and profitability, and 98% agree that encouraging staff to increase their skills helps to increase employee satisfaction and retention. Foundation degrees are the most popular of the training options sought by employers for their staff, with the unique combination of academic knowledge and work-based experience pleasing 82% of those surveyed.

    With the wealth of information on the benefits of training for staff, and the awareness demonstrated above of the competitive advantage gained through having a better trained workforce, it is saddening to notice that in this case words seem to be more popular than action. Only 12% have actually been involved to date in designing courses to help combat the skills issues that their business faces, and 18 % are not involved with any kind of vocational training for their workforce.

    Minister Calls for Better Participation

    Bill Rammell MP, the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, said: "I am pleased to see employers in the retail sector continue to back vocational qualifications. I want more UK business leaders to come on board and commit to the design and delivery of Foundation Degrees.

    "Foundation Degrees were introduced in 2001," he continued, "designed in conjunction with business so that they are specifically tailored to individual employers needs and can help bridge sector-specific skills gaps. The feedback from early adopters such as Youngs Bluecrest and Radisson Edwardian shows that these qualifications have real, quantifiable benefits to the bottom line. Wed like to see more employers seizing the skills initiative - and reaping the benefits."

    Jethro Marsh

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