Business expansion and recruitment plans on the up

Nearly half of London’s businesses (45%) say there is a skills shortage current in the capital, according to the latest CBI/KPMG London Business Survey.

Two-thirds of firms (66%) reported difficulty recruiting highly skilled people, such as IT/technology (20%), creative (14%) and finance and engineering specialists (12%). Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are in high demand, whilst basic skills, such as core literacy and numeracy, alongside transferable skills, such as communication and business awareness, were also ranked as key traits firms look for in their employees.

Recognising this, half of firms have established links with schools or colleges. Of those businesses, half provide work experience to students and over a third (37%) provide careers advice and talks. It is striking that over half of businesses (56%) want a reformed visa system to remove the barriers to hiring highly skilled individuals from overseas. Firms highlight the need to continue to improve visa service standards, remove the net migration target and reform business visitor visas.

The survey of 115 London firms shows increased optimism about the economy (59%), but it is growing at the slowest pace in a year. About half of respondents (47%) are optimistic about their business prospects over the next six months, with 66% planning to expand their business over the next year – the highest figure recorded since the start of 2014. Nearly two-thirds of firms (62%) aim to increase headcount over the next six months, 10% up on the last quarter, and only 18% plan to reduce headcount, 5% down on the last quarter.

Lucy Haynes, CBI London Director, said:

“Having the right skills to drive the capital’s economy forward is a core ingredient in the recipe for continued success.

River Thames (PD)“It’s important that businesses seize the opportunity to work with schools and colleges and ensure that London’s students, who will build the capital’s future, are equipped with the skills firms want in their employees. Science, technology, engineering and maths skills are particularly valuable, given that London’s thriving creative and technology sector is set to be a big growth contributor over the next five years.

“To keep the capital internationally competitive, as well as attractive to skilled workers policymakers need to look at further streamlining the visa system. We would also like to see the Mayor take urgent action to free up land for house building, and invest more in the city’s transport infrastructure.”

Richard Reid, London Chairman of KPMG, said:

“As we finally move into a period of more sustained growth, many businesses, including our own, face a larger skills deficit and could struggle to find the talent they need to grow and prosper.  Combined with the higher housing and transport costs, the war for talent is getting increasingly complex for employers based in one of the most vibrant but expensive cities in the world.

“London’s businesses are doing more at a grass roots level to work with schools and students to further raise achievement and equip them with the key skills needed for employment.  London already has the best qualified school leavers in England, but we can still do more to address a small core with poor basic numeracy and literacy skills because they are essential to join the workforce.

“Being a global hub and with two out of three London businesses struggling to get the high skilled workers they need in this country, easing the barriers of our complex visa system to ensure we attract the best global talent needed to compete on a world stage is now vital.  Failure to act swiftly on the skills agenda will undoubtedly see London slip in its global reputation as a world class business destination to the highly educated centres of the likes of Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai.”

The cost of doing business, together with housing costs and transport, remain the biggest threats to London’s competitiveness. Whilst firms saw an improvement in the cycle (57%) and tube (52%) networks, almost half (49%) said the city’s roads are deteriorating, and 55% said air connectivity had not improved.

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