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Employers Turn to Training as Businesses Struggle to Recruit
July 10, 2019
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More than two-thirds (68%) of UK employers have struggled to find skilled workers this year, with Brexit uncertainty making talent scarcer.

An annual report on the skills landscape of the UK, The Open University Business Barometer 2019, reveals that organisations spent £4.4 billion on temporary staff, recruitment fees and increased salaries in the past 12 months due to difficulties finding employees with the right qualifications and experience.

Nearly half (48%) hired temporary staff to plug gaps, while 44 per cent spent more than intended on recruitment fee

Others (38%) took a different approach, increasing salaries in order to make roles more attractive, and nearly a third (31%) were forced to hire at a lower level than intended.

Approach to addressing the skills shortageExpenditure 2019Expenditure 2018Percentage Change
Extra spending on recruitment fees£1.6 billion£1.2 billion+33%
Training to boost skills of those hired at a lower level£1.2 billion£1.5 billion-20%
Increasing salaries on offer£0.9 billion£2.2 billion-59%
Spending on temporary staff while role remained vacant£0.8 billion£1.5 billion-47%
Total£4.4 billion£6.3 billion-30%

The skills shortage comes as the UK employment rate stands at the highest level since 1971, while unemployment is at its lowest since 19741. The dearth of skills in the labour market means that recruitment is taking one month and 27 days longer than anticipated, forcing many to seek external help – leading to a 33 per cent rise in spending on recruitment fees in total.

Three in five (63%) employers report that their organisation is currently facing a skills shortage (up from 62% in 2018). And while spending on recruiters is on the rise in an attempt to attract necessary skills, there is also a greater focus on re-training existing staff, with more than half (53%) of organisations increasing their training and development budgets in the past year – by an average of 10 per cent.

In the past, many employers have relied on buying talent rather than building it, but with more than three in five (62%) expecting it to become harder to find the right skills in the next year many are now looking internally.

Three in five (61%) think that they will have to focus on developing talent from within their organisation if they want to guarantee access to the skills they need in order to be productive and efficient. And the benefits of this approach can be felt throughout an organisation, with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills citing training as one of the most commonly cited channels through which spillovers of knowledge and productivity can occur2.

While one in five (21%) employers think that Brexit will open up new growth opportunities for their organisation, the current uncertainty surrounding the UK’s departure from the EU may be a key driver of this sudden change in gear. Three in five (59%) senior business leaders agree that the skills shortage will worsen after the UK officially leaves the European Union, which may explain the shift to focus on home-grown talent.

While seven in 10 (71%) employers agree that developing the skills of the existing workforce is a more sustainable approach, it is crucial that any training helps to support business objectives, while offering as much as value as possible. The Open University’s flexible, technology-enabled degrees and apprenticeships, allow employees to fit learning around work and personal commitments, whilst being able to stay local and contribute to their community – and at the same time nearly three in five (58%) employers believe is less disruptive than other forms of training.

David Willett, Corporate Director at The Open University, responded to the findings: “It’s encouraging that employers are looking to invest in the talent of their existing workforce, with businesses increasingly turning to strategies that will serve their skills requirements for the years to come. While many are starting to focus more on building up skills from within, rather than buying them in, it is essential that training ultimately delivers results, while fitting around employees’ existing commitments.

“Current uncertainties may see businesses understandably focusing on the short term, but initiatives like work-based training are essential for those looking to remain agile and competitive throughout in a rapidly changing business environment. Training, such as apprenticeships, provides a long-term solution to UK organisations looking to adapt to challenges on the horizon such as Brexit, digitisation and new technologies.”

Further findings, including specific skills shortages by region and sector and employers’ expectations for the year ahead, as well as details of The Open University’s offering, are available in The Open University Business Barometer 2019.

Methodology: The Open University Business Barometer was developed using the expertise and experience of The Open University in conjunction with quantitative market research amongst a range of businesses across the UK. A full methodology, detailing all extrapolations and calculations, can be found on The Open University’s business website.

The Open University commissioned PCP Research Limited to undertake a survey of 950 senior business leaders across the UK between 9 and 21 May 2019. The data was weighted by UK nation, region, business size and sector. Data for financial calculations was analysed and extrapolated by Third City.

About The Open University: The largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 2 million students, and it currently has almost 175,000 current students, including more than 7,000 overseas.

Over 75% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and 78 per cent of the FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses. The OU has been delivering work-based learning to organisations since the mid-90s, and has an employer satisfaction rating of 98%, according to the Skills Funding Agency. The OU launched its higher and degree apprenticeships offering in 2016 to provide employers with flexible, technology-enabled apprenticeship training for new and existing staff in leadership and management, digital, policing, healthcare and nursing.

In the latest assessment exercise for university research (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), nearly three quarters (72%) of The Open University’s research was assessed as 4 or 3 star – the highest ratings available – and awarded to research that is world-leading or internationally excellent. The Open University is unique among UK universities in having both a strong social mission and demonstrating research excellence.

Regarded as the UK’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units, as well as games, videos and academic articles and has reached audiences of up to 9.8 million across a variety of online formats including OpenLearn, YouTube and iTunes U.

The Role Of Assessment In Guided Career Intervention

Exploring why career practitioners use assessments, as well as how they can select the appropriate tools and effectively interpret client results

By: JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey

Assessment has played an important role in career guidance since its beginning in the early 20th century. According to the Joint Committee on the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing of the AERA, APA and NCME (Joint Committee on Testing Practices, 2004), the definition of assessment is “Any systematic method of obtaining information from tests and other sources, used to draw inferences about characteristics of people, objects, or programs.” This article uses the term “career guidance” to refer to interventions with young people and adults related to educational and vocational choices. The purpose of the article is to review with career development facilitators and counsellors the purposes, options and guidelines for use of assessment in career guidance and counselling.

Purposes of assessment

It is possible to view the plethora of assessment instruments available in our field in three categories: a) those that support career exploration, b) those that identify career development needs, and c) those that measure accomplishment in areas related to educational or career development goals. Let’s look at each of those separately.

The purpose of the first segment of assessments available in our field is to help individuals find focus for exploration. This segment includes inventories of interests, skills, work-related values and personality characteristics. The number of occupational options is vast, with 974 groups of occupations defined in O*NET (the National Occupational Classification [NOC] system categorizes jobs in Canada), each of which can be broken down into many more defined occupations. The National Career Cluster Framework (Advance CTE, 2019) defines 16 industry-related clusters, which can be divided into 79 groups called pathways.

To find focus for exploration

The Holland classification system (Holland, 1997) defines six work environments, under which hundreds of occupations are categorized by educational levels in the Dictionary of HollandOccupational Codes (Goddfredson & Holland, 1996). It is impossible for individuals seeking to choose an occupation to learn about all of these options. Thus, one very valuable use of assessment inventories is to find focus for exploration.

ACT’s World-of-Work Map (Prediger, 1981) arranges hundreds of occupations by Holland work environments and 26 Career Areas. There are assessments whose results direct individuals’ focus to options in each of these four organizational schemes, allowing them to identify groups of occupations that align with their interests, skills, values and/or personality traits. Career explorers can then identify specific occupations they are interested in and “reality test” (using Donald Super’s term) this manageable set by reading, job shadowing, course work, etc.

To identify career decision-making and development needs

Though it sounds easy to administer an interest inventory, interpret it and shepherd career decision-makers through exploratory interventions, a significant proportion of career explorers have intrapersonal challenges that need to be removed before they are able to follow a logical process to a well-informed choice. Theorists define these barriers differently. Super (1957) describes a poor self-concept or the lack of completing specific development tasks as barriers. Krumboltz (1991) focuses on negative career beliefs. Sampson and his colleagues (1996) refer to negative career thoughts. Dinklage (1968) emphasizes ineffective decision-making styles.

The assessment tools in this category measure such intrapersonal challenges. The results may be used to work with individuals on specific identified problems or, for example, to assign members of a career planning course to different levels and kinds of intervention.

To measure progress in desired learning or attitudes

Similarly, such assessments may be used for research or for program evaluation. For example, a measure of career decidedness may be administered to two matched groups: one that has not had a course in career planning and one that has had such a course. The hypothesis is that the group that has completed the career-planning course will have a higher mean score on career decidedness than the group that did not have the course. Such an assessment could also be used with one group prior to taking the career-planning course and again afterward. The goal in this case would be to measure change in specific career attitudes or behaviours triggered by the content of the course.

Assessments of this kind can also be used to measure the attainment of skills, such as behavioural skills or academic skills. After individuals receive training and retake such tests, an increase in these skills can be measured. Similarly, students’ achievement toward mastering specific standards or goals can be measured by instruments in this category.

Types of assessments

Assessment tools in our field are typically divided into two categories: formal and informal. Formal assessments have these characteristics: a) their content, specific items, scoring algorithms and score reports are developed with scientific rigour; b) this fact results in the publisher being able to state their reliability and validity; and c) the combination of the first two makes it possible to compare the score of an individual to that of another or with those of a group with a high degree of scientific accuracy.

On the other hand, these characteristics – scientific rigour, known reliability and validity, and capability for comparison with others – are not central to informal assessments. They are tools such as card sorts, checklists, career fantasies, questionnaires and structured interviews. They own a legitimate space in our field and are used skillfully by many counsellors. They cost far less to develop and acquire, and they can be administered with far less advance planning.

Scientific rigour includes the careful completion of tasks such as the following:

  • Clearly defining what is to be measured
  • Clearly defining the component parts of what is being measured
  • Developing items that measure the component parts
  • Testing these items with members of the target population and modifying or replacing those that do not function well
  • Choosing a norm group that mirrors the target population for which the assessment is developed
  • Developing norms for various ages or grade levels
  • Designing score reports that can be readily understood by counsellors and those who took the assessment
Methods of administering assessments

Informal assessments are typically administered by a counsellor or career development facilitator face-to-face in an office or classroom setting. For example, students or clients are asked to sort a set of cards, each of which contains the description of a value, into three stacks: those that “highly appeal to me,” those that are “somewhat appealing” and those that “I’d like to avoid.” In a different setting, a counsellor or career development facilitator may ask students in a career planning class to relax, close their eyes and imagine an ideal day at work – its location, work tasks, co-workers, degree of independence, length, concomitant lifestyle, etc. In yet another approach, a counsellor who has detailed knowledge of Holland’s theory may conduct a structured interview around the six work environments. In each of these cases, a trained counsellor is able to help a student or client draw inferences from the informal assessment that sheds light on potential career choices or changes.

Formal assessments are administered in print or digital forms. If they are standard tests in print form with right or wrong answers, they are administered under controlled conditions usually involving standard instructions, specified time limits, security of testing materials and test monitors. Such tests may also be administered in a computer lab, requiring that individuals prove their identity to access items that are delivered through a secure website. Some achievement or aptitude tests are adaptive, meaning that the computer selects items at increasing levels of difficulty until it finds the examinee’s general level of knowledge and then presents items only at that level. This type of test varies both in items used and in length of testing for different students.

Technology has revolutionized assessment in many ways, offering capabilities such as the following: adaptive testing; the use of videos, graphics and audio; administration to large numbers of people nationwide at their selected time; immediate scoring; online personalized interpretation of results; electronic transfer of results to counsellors; and the ability to easily share results, where appropriate.

Guidelines for selecting assessments

Following are some guidelines that may be helpful when selecting assessments to use with clients or students:

  • Define clearly what you want to measure and why. Possibilities for what you want to measure could include interests, skills, aptitudes, personality traits, values, academic achievement, learning style, decision-making style and self-efficacy, to name a few. Reasons for measuring these might include to design career guidance interventions for individuals or groups of individuals, to define segments of your target population to receive different sets of interventions, to measure the effectiveness of your program, to determine whether students have achieved the goals set forth in a specific set of standards, etc.
  • Develop a list of assessments designed to measure what you want to measure. Using a resource such as NCDA’s publication, A Counselor’s Guide to Career Assessment (Wood & Hays, 2019) will be invaluable. It describes assessments designed for various purposes and the 7th edition uniquely gives you online access to expert reviews in order to make an informed choice.
  • Gather as much information as you can about the assessments you have identified. It is essential for you to determine whether each assessment has been developed and tested with individuals like those in your target population. For each, learn about its reliability, validity and theoretical base. Take the assessment yourself and administer it to a few students/clients. Study its score report to see if it is presented in a language and with graphics that will make it understandable to your population. Talk to or read reviews from counsellors who have used the assessment. Importantly, determine if the results of the assessment are compatible with other components of your program. For example, if your school’s occupational information is organized by Holland work environments, use an interest inventory that provides results by Holland types. Last, but certainly not least, assess the quality of the publisher. This involves the credibility of the author, the professional reputation of the publisher, the training offered to assure that the assessment is administered and interpreted properly, and the quality of customer service provided.
  • Determine its practicality for your setting. This criterion includes how the assessment is administered (print or electronic) and scored, how counsellors can get training, length and requirements of administration, and cost.
Guidelines for interpreting assessment

Here are some guidelines for providing interpretation:

  • Provide interpretation as soon as possible after students or clients have taken an assessment. Begin interpretation by reviewing why the person took the assessment and what it was like (eg, “you responded to 60 items by selecting one of five answers – like very much, like, neutral, dislike, dislike very much”). If true, be sure to indicate that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers.
  • Provide the score report to the examinee and explain each section simply and in detail. If you conduct interpretation in a group, use an attractive PowerPoint presentation with a sample score report that students/clients see while having their own report in front of them.
  • Provide an opportunity to students/clients to ask questions, and try to make sure you answer all questions immediately or within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Be sure that you apply the results on the score report to the specific career concerns that the student or client is facing at the moment. This, of course, is the real reason for having taken the assessment. Its interpretation should be used to guide course selection, the tentative selection of an occupation or job, or whatever career concern the student or client has brought forward or your program of services is attempting to support.
Summary

This article has provided a general overview of the purposes of assessment, types of assessment, methods of administration, and guidelines for selecting and interpreting assessments. Understanding these concepts is just the beginning of preparation for informed use of assessments in career counselling and guidance. In-depth investigation of the effectiveness of specific assessments in various work settings and with members of various populations is essential.

JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, EdD(bowlsbeyj@kuder.com) is an international authority in the areas of career development and counselling and a pioneer in the development and use of computer and web-based career planning systems. She has served as a high school director of guidance, university professor, career counsellor, executive director of the ACT Educational Technology Center, vice-president for development at Kuder, Inc., and president of the National Career Development Association. Dr Harris-Bowlsbey is the author of numerous print-based curricular materials, is widely published in academic journals and texts, and has delivered hundreds of workshops to counsellors at conferences and universities around the globe. She is the author of numerous versions of web-based career planning systems, of curricula for training of career development facilitators, and co-author of a leading textbook for the training of master’s level counsellors.

References

Advance CTE. (2019). National career clusters framework. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Dinklage, L.B. (1968), Decision strategies of adolescents. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard UniversityCambridge, MA.

Goddfredson, G.D. & Holland, J.L. (1996). The dictionary of Holland occupational codes. Odessa, FL. Psychological AssessmenResources.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: a theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd edition). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004). Code of fair testing practices. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Krumboltz, J.D. (1991). The Career Beliefs Inventory. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden, Inc.

Prediger, D. P. (1981). Aid for mapping occupations and interests: A graphic for vocational guidance and research. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 30, 21-36.

Sampson, J.P., Petersen, G.W., Lenz, J.G., Reardon, R.C., & Saunders, D.E. (1996). Career Thoughts Inventory. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers. New York, NY: Harper.

Wood, C. & Hays, D.G. (2019). A counselor’s guide to career assessment instruments. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.