Next five years will be 'as good as it gets for Derbyshire apprentices'

2 February 2015

Peter Schofield is feeling positive for two reasons.

Firstly, apprenticeships are back in fashion – something he sees as the answer to a long-lasting skills shortage in Derby.

And secondly, with the economy on the mend, businesses are once again "going for it".

Peter predicts both factors will enable Ford & Stanley to "double in size every year for the next four years". He said a skills shortage in Derby has made recruiting a tough ask in recent years – but that brighter times are on the horizon.

"The most wonderful thing I've heard in 15 years is young people are choosing apprenticeships," he said. "We're working in a skills shortage environment and apprenticeships are the only way out of it.

"When I started school, there was something like 27,000 apprenticeships. The last time I heard, the figure was 400-500.

"There were so many apprentices that firms stopped training people. The effect of the baby boom came to an end, resulting in less youngsters than in the mid-1960s. And the Government's efforts to address the situation by pushing up the retirement age hasn't worked because most people have inherited houses and wealth, and so are choosing not to work on.

"That's why we've got a skilled shortage. How do we cure it? We train people. That emphasis on training is starting up again. That's the way we're going to do it."

It is not an overnight solution. So what should hi-tech manufacturers, who are consistently struggling to recruit, do in the meantime?

"Well, that's where we can have an effect," said Peter. "We can't cure the skills shortage – but we can implement positive treatments to ease the pain.

"In a skills shortage environment, people become consumers of employment opportunity in that they've got choice. We can help firms attract the employees they want – and save them money in the process.

"What normally happens – and this is a big danger to the economy – is firms will offer people more money as an incentive to join, or indeed stay.

"But that doesn't always work. If you look at the top ten reasons why people leave companies, consistently, money sits at six or seven. So there's at least five other reasons that companies aren't taking into account when trying to attract or retain skilled workers.

"That's where we can help. When an employee leaves, the company usually does an exit interview and the person leaving is asked why they chose to go. But rarely do they tell the truth, as they don't want to burn their bridges with that company in case they decide they want to go back one day.

"We do the same kind of thing – but we get told the truth. It's not the sanitised version they offer to employers.

"We get to uncover the truth behind why people leave and that puts us in a position to advise the employers on those five other reasons why people have chosen to go.

"That in turn helps the company implement changes that will help it retain workers, without having to inflate wages."

Peter said Ford & Stanley provides a vital service as companies with a poor "employee value proposition" have to pay 25% more to attract workers compared to an employer with a strong employee value proposition."

He also said a skills shortage results in "winners and losers" and that Ford & Stanley knows how to make companies be among the successful ones.

"There are up to 40% more jobs than people to take them," he said. "So, four in ten jobs are going to be permanently unfilled.

"I've got one client, who I won't name, was recently forced to turn down a £2.7 million project because he was short of four engineers. He told me he couldn't find the people he needed."

He added: "The problem is massive. I saw this coming 25 years ago and started this business primarily around the skills shortage. I thought we better gear ourselves up for a storm. Businesses are reaping the harvest sown in the 1970s when apprentices descended."

Peter said the storm will continue for some years. However, expect a lot of sunshine, too.

He said: "Two years ago, we sensed employers were fed up of having things on hold due to the recession. They were reading stories in the media and were saying we'd best hold back.

"There's since been an attitude change. Now businesses are just going for it. They want to get on with it. It began as a trickle and now it's become a flood.

"It's marvellous to see. The next five years will be as good as it gets. Enjoy it."

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