Employers in Hillingdon and west London called for flexible staff training which fitted in around their business needs, at a recent conference.

In discussions at Hillingdon's first ever Skills Conference, hosted at Uxbridge College, around 70 delegates discussed their concerns over a range of training issues.

They also highlighted needs which they felt to be specific to west London's workforce, which included training people in both basic skills and at high levels - for example in literacy and numeracy as well as degree level.

The Skills Conference on 18 March addressed immediate and long-term skills gaps and shortages in the area, looking at ways to tackle them.

The conference brought together employers, training providers, local MPs, officials from Hillingdon Council, Learning and Skills Council representatives, and others with an interest.

Keynote speakers were:

* Harvey McGrath, Chair London First and Vice-Chair London Skills and Employment Board.

* Frank Wingate, Chief Executive of West London Business.

* Clare Arnold, Executive Director, London West Learning and Skills Council.

* Raman Virk, Training and Development Manager, Arora International Hotel Company.

Laraine Smith, Principal of Uxbridge College, said: "This event has been a real success in bringing together key business people dealing with issues around the shortages of qualified people in the area, and Uxbridge College is proud to have hosted it.

"Uxbridge College is playing a key part in helping tackle skills shortages itself by offering a huge range of vocational training which is needed by business, including through schemes for free courses such as under Train to Gain. We already work with 500 employers in and around west London and that number is growing."

Harvey McGrath, Chair London First and Vice-Chair London Skills and Employment Board, said: "There are no quick fixes for the issues that London faces. Not enough Londoners in employment continue to acquire relevant skills to allow them to compete in the labour market. The board really values the role played by further education colleges sector in London. We think the college's role is central and I am impressed by what Uxbridge College is doing."

Frank Wingate, Chief Executive of West London Business, said: "One of the messages from West London Business is that West London is not just a series of nice green leafy suburbs, it is a very active economy in its own right. But in west London there are 12,000 vacancies which are hard to fill because of skills shortages. In our survey only 60% of businesses offered training and only 50% had a training plan. Uxbridge College has gone out and engaged with employers and found out what they need."

Clare Arnold, Executive Director of London West Learning and Skills Council, said: "Learning is about the individual saying 'I want to do this, it's going to be good for me and good for my family'. Around £4m is available in Hillingdon for free training for staff - we want people to sign up for that training."

Raman Virk, Training & Development Manager, Arora International Hotel Company, said: "Arora has 80% retention of staff - we invest in them and they want to stay. In a recent customer satisfaction survey, 94% said they would return to our hotel, so we must be doing something right. Uxbridge College have been a really big help to us - I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped us with funded training courses."

Key statistics for Hillingdon:

* Hillingdon is ranked eighth from bottom in London (25th out of 33 London Boroughs) for the proportion of workers qualified to at least Level 2 (GCSE equivalent).

* With 70% of economically active adults qualified to at least Level 2, Hillingdon is below the London average of 74%.

* Employers report that finding skilled workers is one of the biggest problems facing them.

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