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Brexit will impact economic development profession, survey finds

The recruitment of economic development professionals for both public and private sector organisations is a major problem and will 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 (IED), which sought responses from 106 IED members around recruitment, skills and training and development.

We found that 51% of respondents to the survey are not currently recruiting, or planning to recruit over the next 12 months, for economic development roles.

For those that are recruiting, a third say they are not confident that they will be able to find the quality of staff they need for these roles – and separately 41.5% of respondents think that Brexit will have a further negative impact on recruitment over the next five years.

IED members are reporting that they have recently experienced the most problems in recruiting professional – non-managerial – staff to economic development roles (66.5%). However, issues have also been experienced in recruiting middle managers (37%), graduates (26%), senior managers (22%) and other roles.

The main reason these roles are hard to fill, according to 53% of respondents, are low numbers of applicants with the required skills. As a result, a quarter of respondents are refining jobs in the existing workforce to try to fill the economic development roles they need – and 29% say they are contracting out work to plug the gaps.

However, beyond this fundamental issue, skills gaps are also a major headache for those specialising in economic development. The biggest concern with senior manager recruits is leadership and management. For middle managers and professional – non-managerial – staff it is the ability to work across inter-disciplinary teams. For graduates it’s the ability to work on their own initiative and practical experience. And for apprentices and school leavers the issues are even more fundamental – literacy, numeric and communication skills, ability to fit into the workplace, work ethic and time management.

Yet despite these gaps 68% say that training is not being provided due to lack of budget. And at the same time IED members are asking for more training and development in areas such as economic analysis, analytical skills and knowledge, financial analysis, project management and understanding place competitiveness.

We must also look more closely at how the next generation is being developed. Currently 58% of respondents to our survey are reporting that less than 5% of their immediate economic development team/department are under the age of 30 (and only 3.5% say that more than 50% of their workforce are under the age of 30).

A further 61.5% agree there are barriers to recruiting people under the age of 30 – including a lack of understanding of career opportunities in economic development (52.5%) and a lack of experience in the work environment (42.5%).

Yet 56.5% of respondents do not have links with universities/colleges to support recruitment. And 78.5% do not have an apprenticeship scheme, even though two thirds say they know what benefits the apprentice levy can bring.

From the IED’s perspective, our members have identified skills’ gaps with all types of recruit, yet training and development is not always provided due to lack of budget – and this needs to be higher up the priority list than it is currently.

There are also difficulties in finding and recruiting economic development professionals of the future. Going forward there needs to be closer working between economic development organisations and education institutions to ensure a) young people’s understanding of the range of career opportunities in economic development and b) that courses are being shaped to provide the relevant skills that organisations need.

We all have a role to play in the next steps, and we will help to broker relationships between our members and education organisations to support succession planning in economic development. We will also provide professional development for economic development practitioners in the areas they have highlighted.

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