SME Fluency closes the skills gap with the help of BT

 Sinead MacManus​, chief executive of SME and BT Infinity Labs runner-up Fluency, on training and the skills gap in the public sector


08 Sep 2015

If your organisation is drowning in application forms but struggling to find employees who have had relevant training and experience, Islington-based Fluency could be your answer. 

Fluency, runner-up in the BT Infinity Labs SME awards for 'ideas that could change lives' in the public sector, provides an alternative education system for learners, focused on vocational skills and just-in-time learning, and links learning with real-work experiences and opportunities.  

We talk to CEO Sinead MacManus about training and the skills gap in the public sector. 

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In which areas do you think training is lacking? 
“I’ve been in to various employment organisations, and they’re very lacking in innovation,” says Sinead.  “The kind of training courses they’re sending young people on are not what employers are looking for out there in the public sector. 

“We are filling the employability gap. These young people have been to further education or university, they’ve come out and have just not been able to get interviews or their foot in the door of a career.  They’re missing something.”

Is it simply about filling the skills gap? 
Fluency works with organisations to establish which skills are essential, and trains young people up with those skills.  

“There’s a weird dichotomy, in which organisations say ‘there’s a skills gap and we need another 745,000 people with these particular skills in the next two years,’ and yet the reality is that people who’ve been supposedly trained in those skills can’t even get a look in for these type of jobs.”   

“Organisations are putting a job description out on a jobs board and getting 100 applications, which are labour intensive to plough through, only to discover that those 100 people don’t have the right skills.  That’s something we’ve looked at and we can solve.”

Can you give us an example of your work in practice?
“The East London Business Alliance (ELBA) identified that Islington has a very high proportion of single parents not in work even though the south of the borough - Tech City - has a wealth of job opportunities.  

“We’ll be running a blended learning course for single parents in Islington, in November, at the Tech Hub, to fast track the participants in a range of skills as well as build up their confidence and employability skills.  Each parent will then be matched with a placement to put their skills into practice. This will be followed by support to help each person explore and obtain self-employment or employment.”
How has being involved with BT helped Fluency?  
“Being part of the BT family is about getting the word more widely out.  BT is in millions of homes around the country, so this is a great platform for us. 

“Start-ups like Fluency are doing valuable work but we are so small it is difficult to get a lot of reach.  We have 1,500 users at the moment but I want to have 150,000 users, and include older people who are re-careering and mums who want to retrain.

“The BT Infinity awards meant a financial gain for us, being part of the community at Tech Hub and a pledge of support from BT. We’re working with the Tech Literacy team in the hope that Fluency can help the programme meet its aims, as it develops.”  

Where will the public sector employees of the future come from? 
“We’re not just aiming to close the IT skills gap, but on preparing employees for the public sector in the future. We need to start children thinking about tech careers at a much earlier age, to solve the supply problem in the next ten to 15 years.  

“When we started Fluency, we were focused on digital marketing as this was in demand, but what we are really focusing on now are big data, analytics and coding skills, which are what all organisations are going to need.  

“Since the Infinity Lab awards ended, we have developed HTML and CSS courses, and have a roadmap of courses like SQL, programmatic marketing and Python.” 

And what about Fluency’s own future? 
“We’re getting to other big digital hubs like Brighton and Manchester,” says Sinead, “and we’re working with the British Council to bring the Fluency model to young people in India with remote work opportunities back in the UK.” 

Fluency’s success is a positive reflection on the future employees of the public sector, thinks Sinead.  “The young people who have come to our platform have demonstrated that they’re willing to learn which puts them ahead of the other 95 per cent of the other applicants, and gives credence to their initiative.”  



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