Education: Management skills - still at a dangerously low ebb

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The Independent Culture
Skills shortages remain a serious hindrance to firms' competitiveness. A new task force aims to change all that, says Roger Trapp.

The widening skills gap is causing growing concern to executives, according to research published today.

Sixty-seven per cent of business leaders surveyed for "UK Corporate Employment Strategies and Trends", released by the Institute of Management and Manpower, the employment services company, say it is difficult to recruit people with the right leadership skills. In addition, 63 per cent say strategic awareness is in short supply and 62 per cent say they have difficulty finding people who are sufficiently innovative. Experience of managing customers, commercial awareness and people management skills are also hard to come by.

The findings come as the British Chambers of Commerce has set up a task force to deal with the widespread skills shortages that are said to be hindering small firms' competitiveness.

The organisation, which claims to represent 110,000 business of all types and sizes, has published research indicating that the problem is as serious as ever.

The survey conducted with Alex Lawrie, a finance company that is part of the Lloyds TSB group, found that nearly a third of firms believe they are being held back by "inadequate levels of skills in both sales and management staff". Computing and other information technology skills shortages remain particularly acute, with firms claiming particular problems with managerial and clerical staff.

Executives questioned for the Institute of Management survey say employment will increase this year in such areas as customer care, sales and marketing and - not surprisingly - information technology and computing. IT specialists are needed both by companies gearing up to deal with the Millennium timebomb and by financial and retail organisations readying themselves for a single European currency, says the sixth annual survey.

Business leaders are generally bullish about the economy and its effect on jobs, with more than a third of executives expecting overall employment in their organisations to increase and four out of 10 predicting it will stay the same.

Moreover, 62 per cent say they are operating in a growing market, as opposed to 12 per cent who think it is in decline. However, 55 per cent say fear of a UK economic downturn will have an impact in the year ahead.

Executives are also saying that skills traditionally associated with management are becoming more important throughout organisations. The top skills in demand are relationship management, leadership, communication, team working and people management.

Though there is nothing out of the ordinary in the search for such attributes, a certain novelty is creeping into the ways in which companies employ people. Nearly 60 per cent of executives say people are on flexible contracts, largely to meet greater customer requirements, such as 24-hour service, but also to help employees balance work and home lives and improve morale and motivation.

Sixty-three per cent of companies use part-time workers, 57 per cent use casual, seasonal or temporary employees and more than a third have adopted job sharing. Nineteen per cent employ tele-workers, 17 per cent use annual-hours contracts and just over a tenth have "key-time" workers, those who work at specific times to cover operational peaks, such as lunch breaks.