A survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce’s Think Tank has found that business owners want to see the next administration listen more closely to the business community, and address its concerns.
Seventy-eight business owners responded to the survey from a variety of sectors, ranging from sole traders to large companies and new start ups to established firms.
When asked to rank the issues most important to them, the top three answers from businesses all related to the gov. The Manx business community are wanting a gov that listens to business concerns and addresses them promptly as well as a desire to see the next administration doing more to focus on long-term strategies as short term solutions. The third on the list was a call for the gov to do more to support innovation.
Claire Watterson, who chairs the Think Tank, told Gef: ‘We’re looking at how businesses can work better with the government. We obviously all want businesses to succeed on the Isle of Man, it benefits not only the businesses but the government as well and its how we can make sure that the businesses’ point of view is being heard by the government and that we are making the best environment possible for businesses to succeed on the island.
‘We got involved with the last election by forming a political committee, we did a similar survey to members and off the back of that we published a pull out of questions to ask candidates on your doorstep. So this year we wanted to be slightly more involved and our aim is to get more people from our membership out voting and if off the back of that we can promote more people to vote generally, then that’s a bonus.’
One of the most striking figures to come out of the survey is the difficulties faced in all sectors to recruit skilled workers. Of the respondents, over 50 said growing their workforce was very or somewhat important to them and just under 60 of them said the same about upskilling their workforce. However, similar numbers also said that finding staff on island to fill vacancies was a problem and 60 of the business owners said they struggle to recruit suitably experienced staff.
Claire said that the issue most reported by business owners is Manx workers having the skills they need to fill roles. She said: ‘We have a massive skill shortage on the island and we’ve talked about it for years and I think this is one of the major areas of short term problems and long strategies. We need to work out how the Isle of Man is going to fill these skill gaps because if we can’t, our businesses are going to go elsewhere.
‘We’ve found that people would love to employ school leavers but we need to ensure that our school leavers and existing employees on the island are suitably qualified for the jobs coming up. It’s been brilliant to see the level of engagement from businesses who want to employ locally, they don’t look off island first, it isn’t the go to, it’s we want somebody, we want them now and we want them to be local if we can but when they can’t find that person, they go off the island.’
Claire said that the results of the survey shows that the island needs to look at not only whether its education structure is really working to ensure students have the right skills for the Manx employment market but if enough is done to attract graduates back to the island and to upskill the current workforce.
She said: ‘Are we turning out students with the right skills to get a job here? Do we have the right skills from our graduates to come back and find work? Because if we don’t then they’re not going to come back, we’re not going to retain our population of young people if we’re not providing them with opportunities to live and work here. So for us that was a very interesting result of the survey from local businesses, that they want to employ locally, to upskill their workforce and bring in people with potentially different skill sets and upskill them and it’s about trying to find the support to do that.’
Claire said that while this survey hasn’t gone into greater detail about the type of support businesses want to see, she said Think Tank and the Chamber are likely to now look more closely at what businesses want the next gov to seek to address and what support its members, many of whom are medium sized local businesses, want gov to do to help support the local economy and job market.
Back to Work
As well as questions around providing the right skills for those coming out of education to go into the job market, Claire said Think Tank has previously raised concerns about those who seek to return to work. She explained: ‘One of the previous pieces of work we did was a report to Tynwald on the future of work and childcare strategy and that went to Tynwald in July 2019. That’s now led to a working group and that involves a couple of members from government, people from the private sector, so businesses such as childminders, the nurseries, plus people from the Legislation Committee of Chamber
group and ourselves at Think Tank and they’re now looking at how we can change legislation to benefit those people who are looking to go back into work having had children, to see what businesses are looking for from the legislation and how we can change our legislation to encourage people to move to the island to fill these vacancies because at the moment our legislation and childcare provision disadvantages the 25-40 age group which is what Locate.IM is looking to bring over.’
While Think Tank wants to see Chamber members getting out to vote in the election, Claire emphasised that they want to see more people in general voting but also quizzing their candidates about issues like supporting businesses and allowing innovation to flourish. As part of this, Claire said the Chamber will be using the results from this survey to create questions for candidates and give them time to record their answers in the form of self recorded video which will then be shared with Chamber members and the public at large.
She said: ‘This will be the candidates’ chance to engage directly with businesses based on the issues that have been raised directly by the Isle of Man Business community.’