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In search of a few good tradesmen

A serious imbalance in labour supply and demand means UK businesses are paying the price - in more ways than one.
Read time 3min 30sec

The transition from one year to the next always leaves me feeling introspective, while at the same time engendering curiosity as to what the year ahead will bring. This year is a little different, as all optimism is tempered with caution.

Survival over the next six months will be dependent largely on leadership skills.

Basheera Khan, editor, ITWales.com

2003 has kicked off on a sombre note, as sentiments sweeping the world are coloured with expectations of war, and fears that already slow economic recovery will be further impeded as a result.

The business of war, as distasteful as it may be to some, is a business nonetheless, and certain industries will always stand to benefit. In the UK, where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are seen to be the backbone of the economy, thought leadership discussing this sector`s prospects appears to be concentrating on much the same thing.

The message for small business is first and foremost to hold on in these times of adversity and to prepare itself to make the most of the upswing when it arrives. There is no doubt that things will get better, say the pundits, but it`s going to take the better part of quarters one and two before we`ll see a difference.

Survival over the next six months will be dependent largely on leadership skills, as business managers will not only have to deal with those issues carried over from 2002, but will also have to find ways of meeting the requirements demanded by new tax legislation which comes into effect in April, and a host of other soft issues besides.

One of the challenges I find most interesting is that relating to the shortage of trade skills in the UK, and the impact it is reportedly having on SMEs. According to a survey carried out by Yellow Pages, some companies have lost money waiting for roofers, builders or plumbers to finish their backlog of work.

Overall, 85% of SME respondents said that a shortage existed and 61% believed the problem had grown since 2000. Many respondents said they would resort to completing tasks on their own.

This report provides an alternative perspective to an issue which has been plaguing government for some time now. For numerous reasons, employment in trade industries has been looked askance at for years. School-leavers have been encouraged to follow academic pursuits in the halls of higher education, with the result that there are thousands of young graduates out there asking that perennial question, "Do you want fries with that?"

Well, perhaps I exaggerate just a little, but the truth is, there is a serious manpower problem facing the UK. We`re left with too few skilled tradesmen on one end of the employment spectrum, too many graduates at the other end, and caught in the middle, increasing numbers of businesses which find their recruitment drives proving less successful because young people seem less prepared to start where most of us did - at the bottom of the career food-chain.

Small businesses in the UK have complained that young people are no longer willing to work towards a goal of success in the long-term. Not content with starting small and paying their dues, newer entrants into the workforce want nothing more than to have one major success based on luck or fate which sees them sitting pretty for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately for business, the resultant imbalance is going to take some time to level out. As for those holding out for fate to intervene in their fortunes, I can but hope that they will learn the life lesson of hard work bringing its rewards in good time. In the meanwhile, perhaps it`s time to investigate a night class in plumbing...

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