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Skills gap ‘getting worse’ – 1 in 3 education project managers in APM survey

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Around a third of project managers who work in education believe the skills gap in their sector is getting worse and that apprenticeships are among the best ways to fix the problem, a new survey by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, has found.

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 (February 5-11), APM surveyed over 1,000 project management professionals in several UK sectors including education in the poll carried out by national research company Censuswide. 

When asked if they thought the skills gap was getting better or worse in their sector, 32% of the education project managers said getting worse. This was the fourth-highest figure out of 17 sectors polled, in contrast to other sectors such as construction (4%), aerospace and defence (6%), and transport and logistics (10%). The survey average was 13%.

In addition, 21% of the education project managers said the skills gap was staying the same. Another 42% said getting better and 5% said there wasn’t a skills gap in their sector.

The skills gap is generally defined as the disparity between the skills that employers need or find desirable, and the skills possessed by employees or prospective workers, to meet job role demands. The term was coined in the late 1990s and multiple sectors have long raised concerns over the issue, exacerbated by globalisation, the pace of technological change, and specialised skillsets required.

The education project managers who thought the skills gap was getting worse said long-term solutions to bridging the problem over the next five years were through wider recruitment (selected by 58%) as well as apprenticeship programmes and additional training at college, university or apprenticeship level (both 33%). Another 8% said ‘I don’t see the skills gap being bridged’.

Case study: Abi Fielding, AlphaPlus

Project management trainee, Abi Fielding, is studying towards a Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship at AlphaPlus Consultancy, an APM corporate partner and education services business that specialises in standards, assessment and certification in public and private sectors.

Abi, who joined in 2022, said: “I believe apprenticeships offer a unique learning approach, helping young people to kickstart their careers while gaining qualifications and real-life work experience with the additional benefits of a salary and having their foot in the door at a company after completion.

“I chose the apprenticeship route because I find it easier to learn with hands-on experience, and I wanted to develop transferable skills alongside gaining knowledge and a qualification. I don’t think I would have progressed the way I have without being in the work environment.”

Abi agreed there needs to be greater awareness of apprenticeships in schools and colleges, saying: “I felt pushed by my sixth form to go to university without them offering or explaining any other alternatives. I thought I had no other option but to go to university, which isn’t true.”

She added: “Joining a company that only wants to support my growth has really helped my confidence. I have developed from shadowing senior project managers on large projects, to running them independently in their absence and even leading my own projects.”

She also agreed there needs to be greater awareness of project management as a career choice, saying: “It’s a career I definitely would have considered earlier if I have been made aware of it. Project management offers such a range of skills that are transferable for so many job roles. I think more young people should know this.”

Meanwhile, almost one in four (24%) education project managers said their organisation doesn’t run an apprenticeship programme for project professionals.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said:

“For decades, the UK has been beset with skills shortages caused by many entrenched and complex reasons, from digital transformation to post-Covid effects, and it is alarming that one in three project management professionals in the education sector think the problem is getting worse in 2024, despite all the well-publicised and well-intended initiatives in recent years.

“This year’s theme for National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Skills for Life’ and education employers should embrace a culture of constant upskilling and retraining, with artificial intelligence, e-commerce and automation transforming how we live and work at a rapidly increasing rate.

“And while it is positive to see many organisations investing in skills by offering apprenticeships, there is a sizeable minority who aren’t doing so currently. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to help plug the skills gap since they blend a professional qualification with supported learning and development while in a full-time role.

“As the chartered body for the profession, APM champions greater professionalism in projects and driving a better understanding of the importance of the use of expert project professionals in project delivery.”

The survey also found that 45% of education project managers believe there was not enough skilled project professionals to deliver projects successfully in their sector and region. This was the second-highest figure of the 17 sectors, and above the survey’s average of 14%. Adaptability / flexibility and leadership (both 35%) were the highest-rated options when respondents were asked to pick which skills are most needed, followed by communication and organisation (both 29%).

To learn more about APM qualifications and training, apprenticeships and degree courses in project management, visit here

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