Skills shortages top of agenda for West Midlands leaders

West Midlands Business Leaders’ Dinner hosts, pictured left to right: Andrew Mitchell, NatWest; David Hillan, Grant Thornton; Martin Letza, Shoosmiths and Professor Saul Becker, University of Birmingham.

Skills shortages are the single biggest issue facing West Midlands’ leaders according to a snapshot poll taken at a prestigious event in Birmingham recently.

The West Midlands Business Leaders Dinner, the first of its kind to be held in the region, was hosted by national law firm Shoosmiths, NatWest, Grant Thornton and the University of Birmingham. Over 130 senior figures from businesses, support organisations and public sector bodies came together at Birmingham Town Hall to discuss the top challenges they face in taking their organisations forward.

A survey taken at the event revealed that 77 per cent of respondents have struggled to recruit the right people with the right skills in the last 12 months. And when asked to rank the single biggest issues facing their organisations over 59 per cent selected skills shortages.

The next major concern for guests was regulation and red tape, with nearly 30 per cent of respondents highlighting this as top of their agendas, with employment legislation the most challenging element, followed by employment tax rules and the grant funding process. Health and safety procedures were also highlighted as an issue.

David Hillan, practice leader at Grant Thornton in Birmingham, said: “"The West Midlands is currently a hive of economic activity and the snapshot poll shows that for this vibrancy to continue it is vital that action is taken to help bridge the skills gap. The results of the poll echo the conversations we are having with our clients and put the key issues facing organisations in our region into sharp focus."

Martin Letza, corporate partner at Shoosmiths, added: “As business leaders the West Midlands region offers us many advantages, but there are also challenges too. The brain drain of talent to London remains an ongoing issue, as does the growing shortage of candidates in the job market with the relevant skills.

“Time will tell as to whether a devolution deal will go some way in helping to tackle this. As a business community it is incumbent on all of us to find solutions to these challenges. We can do this through our local enterprise partnerships and I urge businesses to actively engage with the partnership's plans for the region.”

The snapshot poll also revealed that access to finance has been less of a concern to local leaders in the last year, with nearly 63 per cent of respondents reporting no problems in sourcing finance to fund their growth plans or initiatives.

Andrew Mitchell, regional director of West Midlands corporate and commercial banking at NatWest, said: “With the West Midlands enjoying increasingly good fortunes, allied to its success at attracting significant inward investment from overseas, many businesses are choosing the area to set up or re- locate their business activities. In a bid to deliver the investment plans behind those decisions, businesses across all sectors are dependent on attracting new talent with relevant skills. With demand outstripping supply, the challenge is likely to remain a topic of debate for the medium term. We alongside other institutions have been working closely with our clients to support them in their growth aspirations and it is therefore pleasing to see the proportion of guests who don’t regard access to finance as a challenge.”

When asked for their views on international opportunities, nearly 63 per cent of poll respondents felt that they weren’t being listened to in the ‘Brexit’ debate.

Professor Saul Becker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, head of the College of Social Sciences, concluded: “The University of Birmingham is committed to preparing its students for a successful career in their chosen field. If we are going to retain this graduate talent, universities, local government and businesses need to continue to work together for a joined up approach to promote the West Midlands as great place to live and work.”