The solution to the talent crisis rests with our own businesses

Sherry Coutu
Source: Getty

Talent is the number one issue keeping Britain’s scaleups and startups awake at night. Thousands of our fast-growth companies admit that they are being held back by the skills gap and this is presenting a real threat to our place on the world stage.

Today, the Scaleup Institute and partners launch the Scaleup Review, the second in a series digging deep under the skin of Britain’s most ambitious businesses. The message from them is loud and clear: we need action on skills.

This is not a new challenge. Businesses have been crying out for talent for a number of years. But our new findings prove the situation is getting worse. We don’t have the necessary talent pool to support the speedily advancing digital economy, and with Brexit looming, the threat of losing access to European talent is already starting to bite. Some 93 per cent of scaleups report they that access to talent is either “vital” or “very important” for their continued growth.

While we can’t take action to prevent the potential loss of access to Europe’s talent pool, we can look closer to home and start to future-proof the next generation of talent. We must prepare young people for the future world of work. A fundamental starting point for this is work experience – creating as many touch points between students and employers as possible.

According to research released yesterday by the Education and Employers charity and LifeSkills by Barclays, 93 per cent of secondary school teachers say that work experience and employer related activities can help students to do better in exams. They also said that one in five pupils have positively benefited from these activities in school.

Many of the companies we speak to say they value work experience over qualifications. Indeed, our Review finds that social skills are high on the agenda for scaleups – 74 per cent cited them as in their top three requirements from school leavers.

But our current work experience model is broken. The percentage of young people getting work experience is dismally low. Meanwhile, teachers and parents are struggling with the pace of change in the jobs market and are finding it increasingly difficult to advise the next generation on the skills they need to acquire to succeed.

The responsibility of ensuring young people have regular access to workplaces does not sit with teachers and parents alone. I also don’t believe that the large, well-known corporates which tend to get the lion’s share of work experience students and interns should be the only companies to host them. Our startups and scaleups, which so desperately need skills, should assume the mantle, too.

Offering meaningful work placements will start to create the pipeline of talent these businesses require. We understand that quite often smaller companies are not front of mind for teachers, parents and students. But, as our research proves, there is an army of exciting fast-growth businesses in every corner of the UK.

That’s why we are launching a new platform called Workfinder, which will connect great, growing companies across the country with engaged 16-24 year olds. Our app enables young people to search their local area and find opportunities. By putting power into their hands and opening up opportunities beyond the traditional employers, we will see every single young person getting the experience they need to hit the ground running when they start their first jobs.

We must not waste time. There are currently 1.8m young people aged 16-18 in the UK. We need them to achieve 140 hours – or four weeks – of work experience, if we are to start tackling the mammoth skills crisis on our hands.

These placements could not only have transformative effects on the skills a young person has, but also inspire them and give them clear pathways into the working world. And it will start to answer the call for talent the UK’s scaleups have so clearly made.