About two-thirds of skills gaps are in customer handling, and training initiatives haven't changed patterns in the workforce.
Posted Jul 25, 2006
Employees in England's labor pool with good customer skills are a rare breed across a broad reach of industries, according to the new "National Employers Skills Survey 2005: Main Report." The survey, produced by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in partnership with the Department for Education and Skills and the Sector Skills Development Agency, is based on interviews with 74,500 employers of varying sizes across different sectors and locations in England. The 200-plus-page document examines several areas, including recruitment problems, skills gaps, recruitment of young people, training and workforce development, and training expenditure. The survey has been running in its current form since 2003, but builds on previous surveys as far back as 1999, according to Christopher Banks, chairman of the LSC.
Employers not being able to find staff with the right people skills cause one quarter of vacancies, according to the report. But in 38 percent of the cases customer-handling skills were noted, followed closely by oral communication skills with 35 percent. The report makes a distinction between skill-shortage vacancies and skills gaps. Skill shortage vacancies are vacancies that result from a low number of applicants with the required skills, work experience, or qualifications. But skills gaps are defined in terms of not being fully proficient, according to the report. "It should be noted that the survey [categorizes] all staff as either fully proficient or not, and hence takes no account of the gap that can clearly exist between those almost proficient and those significantly lacking in the skills that employers require," the report states. "Hence, while from a policy perspective there is clearly interest in raising the skill levels of the workforce, survey data can only identify changes year on year in the proportion of staff identified as fully proficient, not cases where skills levels have been raised but where staff still remain below full proficiency."
When segmented across occupation where there are skill shortage vacancies, customer-handling skills were predominately challenging for those in sales positions to grasp, accounting for 67 percent. Elementary positions and personal service positions followed with both receiving 49 percent, trailed by administrative positions (42 percent), managers (36 percent), associate professionals (33 percent), operatives (29 percent), skilled trades occupations (24 percent), and professionals (23 percent).
The survey also notes that not only are skills gaps most likely to occur among sales and customer service and elementary positions in absolute numeric terms, but the density of skills gaps is highest among them. Nine percent of sales and customer services staff and 8 percent of elementary position employees were described as lacking in skills in the report. And almost two-thirds of all staff with skills gaps are reported to specifically lack customer skills.
"The general point, as has emerged in previous skills surveys, is that people employed in what are traditionally described as unskilled or semiskilled occupations (elementary and sales positions) are the most likely to be described as lacking proficiency," the report states. "Those in more highly skilled occupational areas, such as managers, professionals, and associate professionals, are the least likely to have skills gaps. Although the overall number of skills gaps reported is in decline, the broad pattern of occupational distribution of the skills gaps remains very similar to that recorded in previous years. That is, the inroads that appear to be being made in increasing the skills of the workforce are not necessarily impacting on those occupations for which need is the greatest."
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