Skilled workers always sought...even in tough times

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Jobs. We need more of them. It's an issue that keeps the government up at night. Various reports have it that the government is considering options for making employment laws friendlier to employers. Fewer restrictions will make it easier for businesses to justify taking on new staff.

That's got to be a good thing and EEF has played its part through the Red Tape Challenge in suggesting candidates for reform. We'll hopefully be hearing more specifics from Vince Cable when he comes to EEF's London office on Wednesday.

But is there more to do to encourage employment beyond regulation?

Youth unemployment has cracked a million. This is a big issue of wasted resource sitting there idle – economically costly let alone the negative social impact.

Manufacturing is not going to be a source of mass youth employment. But we do hear fairly continuous noises about a lack of skilled staff available for our members to hire. Companies are always on the lookout for good staff.

Skills is one of four key policy areas we identified in our submission to the government in advance of the Autumn Statement that the government should focus on in enhancing the UK business environment.

What's wrong with our skills system and how can we connect a large pool of potential workers with what demand is out there?

Firstly some positives.

It's good the government has signaled its deserve to growt the number of UK apprenticeships and to refocus FE training providers generally on the needs of employers.

But manufacturers continue to report difficulties in filling both apprentice and graduate vacancies with adequate foundations in maths and science.

Informing students about career opportunities in engineering and manufacturing is important to breaking the monopoly university-based education seems to have on maths and science students' imaginations.

We must ensure a strong pipeline of interested and properly qualified young people are coming through from the secondary education system. STEM careers advice should be part of subject curricula and included in continuing professional development training for science teachers.

This is really a specific instance of a wider point about engaging the education system at the secondary level with the needs of employers.

Another important change from the employers' perspective is clarifying the legal status of apprenticeships. This is important because the legal status has implications for what rights must be afforded to apprentices and thereby how willing employers are to taking on new apprentices.

29 November is the government's Autumn Statement where OBR forecasts will likely show grow expectations having deteriorated sharply. Addressing skills issues in the UK economy has to be part of the response.

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