Employment, skills and training
Businesses in the SEMLEP region, especially larger businesses, put a sufficient supply of
skilled labour near the top of their concerns. It was one of the top constraints on business
growth for businesses with 10 or more staff, and one of the key concerns about the impact
of leaving the EU. Furthermore, three-in-ten businesses rated the availability of skilled staff
in their local area as “poor”.
Around four-in-ten businesses had at least one vacancy in the 12 months preceding the
survey (39%). This was in line with previous years. Approaching a fifth (18%) of all
businesses had been affected by difficulties in recruiting, having had at least one vacancy
that they experienced difficulty filling. This was in line with 2017.
Over half of employers who had a vacancy (52%) could name at least one skill they had
trouble finding in applicants (a skills shortage). Businesses attributed this to a general lack
of skills in the workforce, and the quantity of applications received overall.
Large and small businesses used different channels to try to fill their vacancies. Smaller
businesses were more likely to use free channels such as social media and word of mouth,
which could restrict their pool of applicants to people already in their network and mean
they miss out on skilled candidates.
The majority of businesses believed their workforce to be already well skilled, however 25%
were able to list at least one skill their staff were lacking (a “skills gap”), which continues the
gradual improvement over time. Skills gaps were more likely in the High Performance
Technology and Manufacturing and Advanced Technology sectors.
Just over a quarter (28%) of businesses had taken action to increase the skills of their
workforce. This is slightly lower than in 2017 (32%). Most commonly they had provided inhouse training (19%) or outsourced training (10%).
Overall, 12% of businesses had a current apprentice (on a recognised government
apprenticeship scheme) at the time of the survey, similar to in 2017. A further 36% of SEMLEP businesses said they would consider taking on an apprentice, leaving 52% that
would not consider employing apprentices.
A quarter (26%) of businesses said they had introduced at least one new product, service,
patent or process in the 12 months preceding the survey, an increase on the 19% seen in
2017. Innovation was more common in businesses with 10 or more staff, and in the
Manufacturing and Advanced Technologies and Creative and Cultural sectors.
In addition, the proportion of businesses with research and development links to colleges
and universities had increased from 6% in 2017 to 10% in 2019.
The main constraints to innovation were financial, with the availability and cost of finance
and the general economic climate all commonly rated as factors restricting the amount of
innovation businesses had achieved.
Overall, a quarter (25%) of businesses reported they had heard of SEMLEP or one of its
associated services (such as the Growth Hub, Enterprise Advisor Network, Local Growth
Awareness of SEMLEP itself has increased from 13% in 2017 to 17% in 2019. However,
this is still lower than the 25% seen in 2015.
The most common way businesses had heard of SEMLEP and its services was via
networking with other businesses. This ties in with the earlier finding that small businesses
were more likely this year to have sought advice and support from other business owners.
Direct communications from SEMLEP and the local authority were also common sources of
Businesses felt that SEMLEP should be focusing on providing business support; this was
particularly important to small businesses. Larger businesses were most concerned that
SEMLEP focuses on communicating the region’s business needs to Central Government.
Key Sector Analysis
Creative and Cultural sector:
Creative and Cultural businesses were optimistic about the future, with almost two thirds
predicting growth. This is despite fewer businesses than in 2017 reporting business growth
over the previous year, and a high level of concern about the UK’s exit from the EU (four in
ten expect a negative impact).
Businesses in this sector were less engaged with apprenticeships, with fewer businesses
than average having a current apprenticeship (3%) and fewer being open to the idea of
taking one on in future (26%).
Creative and Cultural businesses were as likely as average to be aware of SEMLEP; they
reported business support as the area they would most like SEMLEP to focus on.