Skills Shortage Cited as Major Challenge for Cornish Businesses

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A lack of suitably skilled staff in Cornwall is one of the surprising findings of a new business survey carried out for Truro’s Chamber of Commerce.

While a third of respondents quoted the wider economic situation, a third of respondents also listed staff availability and skills as a key business challenge.

The Chamber wrote to around 2,500 businesses in the TR1 to TR4 postcodes areas.

Other survey results paint a mixed picture with 45% of businesses predicting an increase in turnover and 16% of businesses expecting to see a fall. Just under 40% expect turnover to remain broadly unchanged.

But despite this, tougher trading conditions are likely to lead to reduced margins with 21% forecasting a fall, and 38% an increase, in profits.

Larger business proved most pessimistic; 40% of those with a turnover greater than £5m expect it to fall this year.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Chairman, David Tandy of Follett Stock solicitors commented: “The shortage of skilled staff is an issue of great concern. Businesses cannot grow without the right people and the Chamber will do what it can to tackle this issue for our members. But these findings also show that most businesses in the area expect to weather the economic storm, and that’s good news.”

One of the companies highlighting the skills shortage was Govan Gas, a plumbing and heating specialists based in Mount Hawke and employing 16 people throughout Devon and Cornwall.

Its Managing Director, Daryl Govan said: “We simply can’t get suitably qualified staff locally, and that’s stopped our business expanding … we hit a brick wall about 18 months ago after three consecutive years of doubling our turnover. We’re now training staff in-house, but that takes time and costs a lot more than appointing qualified staff.”

Other respondents highlighted specific niche training, which is currently only available elsewhere in the country, such as law and other professional services.

David Tandy continued: “Although staff availability may be hampering businesses now, it’s a sign that Cornwall is looking for more and more highly qualified staff. Long term, that’s good news for the area’s economy. High skill jobs, adding significant value to products and services, are just the ticket for economic success.”

The survey also showed that word of mouth is a vital tool for companies in the area, with around 40% of total business coming from referrals. Truro Chamber currently holds monthly networking clubs to bring together customers and suppliers.

The survey was carried out among businesses with a registered limited company address or a business phone line in the TR1 to TR4 postcode areas.

Truro Chamber of Commerce represents a range of businesses in the city and even has members who trade in Truro but are based in areas such as North Cornwall and Devon.

The organisation lobbies, arranges networking events, sets up social events and provides advice to its members. To find out more about the benefits of Chamber membership, visit www.truro-chamber.co.uk.

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