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There’s a crisis brewing in the economic development workforce

Nigel Wilcock
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Public sector recruitment of economic development professionals is a major problem and is expected to get worse over the next five years.

This is the headline finding of the first Economic Development Skills and Demand survey by the Institute of Economic Development.

Half of public sector organisations are not planning to recruit over the next 12 months for economic development roles. Of those that are recruiting, 35% are not confident they will be able to recruit the quality of staff they need for these roles, with 57% of respondents claiming this is due to a lack of candidates.

However, beyond this fundamental issue, skills gaps are also a major headache. The biggest concern with senior and middle manager recruits is a lack of leadership and management skills. For professional (non-managerial staff) the concern is a lack of ability to work across inter-disciplinary teams. For graduates, it’s the ability to work on their own initiative and for apprentices and school leavers the issues are even more fundamental: literacy, numeric and communication skills, time management and motivation.

However, we found that only one in five public sector organisations is prepared to offer more training to applicants who are less qualified and 86% of those who say that training is not being provided say this is due to lack of budget.

We must look more closely at how the next generation is being developed. Currently two thirds of public sector organisations are reporting that less than 5% of their economic development team/department are under the age of 30 and only 5% say that more than 50% of their workforce are under the age of 30.

The majority (78%) agree there are barriers to recruiting people under the age of 30, including a lack of understanding of career opportunities in economic development (55%) and of experience in the work environment (42%).

However, 62% of respondents do not have links with universities/colleges to support recruitment and 70% do not have an apprenticeship scheme, even though 76% say they know what benefits the apprentice levy can bring.

The overall situation is unlikely to improve; 38% of respondents say that Brexit will have a further negative impact on recruitment over the next five years.

Action is clearly needed. From the IED’s perspective, public sector organisations have identified skills gaps at all levels of economic development but training and development is not always provided due to lack of budget. This needs to be higher up the priority list.

There also needs to be closer working between economic development organisations and education institutions to ensure that young people understanding of the range of career opportunities in economic development and that courses are being shaped to provide the relevant skills that organisations need.

Nigel Wilcock, executive director, Institute of Economic Development

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