Flexibility key to ensuring a skilled workforce is in place to fill future county skill gaps

With Landrover Jaguar announcing a move to a three-day week in its Castle Bromwich factory and Bristol using mini lego characters to highlight the campaign - Find Your New Recruit -the impact of Brexit is being keenly felt all over the Country.

For Cumbria the headlines about the nation's skills gap is pertinent, illustrating the expected economic growth within the county and the ongoing struggle to secure a skilled workforce in the numbers we need.

While there are a number of initiatives aimed at young people to address aspirations and their understanding of future careers, it is also timely to remind ourselves of the opportunities which would be available to the current working age adults, if more employers could adopt flexible working conditions.

With people living longer and a need to work longer, there has been a focus on the 50+ market. Nationally the number of people aged 50+ in employment has grown by nearly 2 million in the last 10 years, 41% of those 50+ are now employed which accounts for a growing share of the total employment market. In Cumbria this is reflected with 40.9% of this age group employed.

The Government has taken several steps to enable older workers to stay in work such as abolishing the default retirement age and extending the right to flexible working.

Another valuable group who could be a greater asset with more flexibility is lone parents.

At the start of the new school year, media stories covered the concern over growing costs of childcare.

Analysis by the Trade Union Congress says that childcare costs have more than doubled since 2008 for families with a full-time and a part-time working parent. Over the same period their wages rose by just 17%. The situation is thought to be even worse for lone parents - childcare costs for a single mum or dad working full time rising seven times faster than earnings.

Ellen Broomé, from the charity Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Successive governments have rightfully invested in childcare but, while this investment has been welcomed, many parents remain frozen out of work because of high childcare costs.

In the UK there are around two million single parents, as a group they make up nearly a quarter of all families with dependent children. Over 67% of single parents are in work, but the number of children living in single parent families who live in relative poverty, is almost double compared to the risk of relative poverty children in two parent families face. In a report conducted by Barnes and Tomaszweski, 84 per cent of non-working single mothers were clear that they wanted to get a paid job, become self-employed or train.

Key reasons for this difference in relative poverty, which is seen in Cumbria as well as UK wide, is that single parents are more likely to be and get stuck in, low-paid work than other workers; there is a lack of jobs that offer flexible working which can mean single parents often take part-time work, which is often low-paid, to balance work and family life.

Barriers and challenges to enter, or re-enter work are generally more difficult for single parents than two parent families, particularly those without extended family support. However, with some thinking outside of the box regarding flexibility from employers, childcare providers and learning and training organisations – these challenges can be eased, and barriers slowly removed.

Flexibility can mean online learning, job share, remote working, flexi hours and onsite childcare facilities. Having access to good quality career guidance and impartial advice is also invaluable for the single parent. In October Inspira is introducing flexible career management sessions over skype, these will be easily bookable through a phone call, email or Facebook messenger @Inspiraforlife.

In our modern, digital age, being able to find flexible career options to help people succeed in life and work, whatever their situation, should be a given and it could help with managing the county’s skills gap.