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Caithness And Sutherland Enterprise Area Business Survey

10th July 2005

In March, CASE sent the web-based business survey to a valid sample of around 500 businesses, and achieved 114 responses, a rate of 23%. This survey covers employers perspectives on recruitment, training and business confidence.

The survey should be taken as indicative of business views. Much of the responses are from smaller businesses so the results should be viewed in this context.

Summary of findings
Four out of ten businesses are recruiting and they are mainly using local methods to recruit, which limits the search area for their vacancies. The anticipated overall vacancy rate over the next six months is around 9%. However individual business expansions or recruitment drives can skew the results for some sectors.

On balance, businesses feel they are receiving roughly the same numbers of job applications as two years ago. But they feel they are not getting applications from the right people or simply enough people from which to choose a suitable employee.

Significant outcomes of the recruitment process include unsustained and unfilled posts (affecting one in five recruiting businesses). Nearly six out of ten businesses feel that there is a shortage of suitable labour locally.

Despite this, the most popular method of recruitment remains word of mouth (74%), which limits the audience for vacancies.

Demand is high and employers predict jobs growing by 5% over the next 12 months. Manual and skilled manual positions are making up half (52%) of all vacancies. While we expect that one aspect of this growth is seasonal (tourism), we do not know if this is a temporary or permanent expansion.

Around half of recruiting businesses have hired or may consider hiring a graduate. In particular, the hotels and restaurants and the public, administration, education and health sectors appear most open to recruiting a graduate. Of course, this does not mean that the opportunities available in these sectors would suit graduates.

Dounreay related contracts still appear to have a strong influence on the labour market. Qualitative responses suggest that recruiting skilled tradespeople is a problem elsewhere in the area as a result. These factors look set to make the recruitment situation more difficult, especially for businesses (such as small businesses) less able to adjust wages and recruitment methods to respond to these changes.

Only a minority of businesses train (38%) and these tend to be larger businesses. Those that are training are likely to predict greater jobs growth (10-11%) while those that do not only predict marginal growth (2%). What is not clear is whether training is leading to growth in employment or growth in employment is leading to training. This an issue that we will explore further to better understand the motives and factors behind training.

The top three skills areas businesses identified for improvement were:

Basic Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills;
customer care; and
people management skills.
But the training that is being carried out does not seem to match up with these needs. Much of the training appears regulatory or orientated towards specific vocational areas. Two thirds of businesses that train will deliver this training internally.

Business confidence is very mixed. Respondents from the retail and distribution sector are particularly pessimistic about their prospects. On balance, slightly more businesses are optimistic than pessimistic about the next three months. Optimism surrounding Dounreay decommissioning remains but anecdotally some businesses are now worried about their future after the Dounreay decommissioning.

Optimism appears dampened by, among other things, poor outlooks on fuel prices and the effects of changes to the minimum wage. Optimism among businesses nationally has also slumped since April 2004 (Institute of Directors April 2005).

Our survey found that two thirds of businesses feel that costs have risen. While reported instances of increased wage demands are low, these may simply not be apparent and are simply creeping down the supply chain - such as through the cost of suppliers and business services.

The new minimum wage implemented in October 2004 appears to be affecting businesses more and more. Twice as many businesses (20%) compared to November 2004 feel that it is having a negative effect.

See the full details at CASE AREA Business survey,

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