Scottish Employer Skills Survey 2020: Technical Report

Technical report for the Scottish Employer Skills Survey 2020.

Questionnaire design

Questionnaire development and changes from the 2017 survey

Where possible the questionnaire for 2020 was aligned with the questionnaire used for the 2017 survey to allow for time-series comparisons on key measures. However, some of the 2017 ESS questions were removed to help reduce length to account for: (i) removal of modularisation of questions (as done for the UK survey in 2017); and (ii) to make space for additional COVID-19-related questions. To minimise the number of questions that had to be removed, it was agreed to increase the interview length from 21 minutes in ESS17 to a target interview length of 25 minutes.

The ESS 2017 questions that were not included in the 2020 survey are shown in Appendix D.

The approach taken to incorporate questions on COVID-19 was three-fold: (i) Some longstanding ESS questions had additional codes added to the read-out and non-read out codes (this also included some Brexit-related codes); (ii) The training section of the questionnaire had a series of new Covid-related questions added; and (iii) A new Covid-related section of the questionnaire was added.

New codes added to the existing questionnaire (including those related to Brexit and COVID-19) are summarised in Table 3 below.

The new COVID-related training questions explored:

  • Whether those who had received online training or e-learning had done this as a replacement for training they would have done face-to-face had the pandemic not occurred (F7C);
  • Whether training levels were expected to increase, decrease or stay the same over the next 12 months (F17-F18) and the extent to which COVID-19 was a factor in these plans (F19-F20);
  • Training undertaken in the previous six months in response to COVID-19 (F21); and,
  • Whether establishments planned to arrange or fund any training related to COVID-19 in the next 6 months (F22nw).
Table 3: New codes added to existing survey questions
Question reference Question text Codes added
C11A What are the main causes of having a hard to fill vacancy for [OCCUPATION]
  • COVID-19 has limited the availability of candidates
  • COVID-19 has hindered the recruitment process
  • Brexit has made it more difficult to recruit EU nationals
C13NW Have you found any of the following skills difficult to obtain from applicants for [OCCUPATION WITH SKILL-SHORTAGE VACANCY]
  • Creative and innovative thinking
C14 Thinking now about all occupations in which you have hard-to-fill vacancies, are hard-to-fill vacancies causing this establishment to …
  • Be unable to react effectively to the impacts of COVID-19
  • Be unable to prepare for the impact of Brexit on our business
C15 What if anything, is this establishment doing to overcome the difficulties that you are having finding candidates to fill these hard-to-fill vacancies?
  • Offering new or enhanced benefit packages to new recruits (e.g. health insurance, company car, etc.)
  • Increasing / expanding trainees programmes (other than apprenticeships)
  • Increasing/expanding apprenticeship programmes (including Foundation Apprenticeships, Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Apprenticeships)
D10 What are the main causes of staff in [occupation] not being fully proficient in their jobs…?
  • Difficulties adapting to workplace changes during COVID-19
D11NW Thinking about your [occupation] who are not fully proficient, which, if any, of the following skills need improving?
  • Creative and innovative thinking
D13 Is the fact that some of your staff are not fully proficient causing this establishment to…?
  • Be less able to respond or adapt to workplace changes as a result of COVID-19
D14 Which if any of the following steps is this establishment taking to overcome the fact that some of its staff are not fully proficient in their job?
  • Increasing or expanding apprenticeship programmes, including Foundation Apprenticeships, Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Apprenticeships
  • Increasing other training activity or spend or increasing or expanding other trainee programmes
E1 Over the next 12 months do you expect that any of your employees will need to acquire new skills or knowledge as a result of the following?
  • Changing workplace practices as a result of COVID-19
E4 Which, if any, of the following skills do you feel will need improving among your [occupation from E2] over the next 12 months?
  • Creative and innovative thinking
F5 You mentioned that you have not arranged or funded training for any of this establishment's employees over the past 12 months. What are the reasons for this?
  • COVID-19 meant that planned training courses were suspended / unavailable
  • COVID-19 reduced time available to managers to organise training
  • COVID-19 reduced time available for employers to give training
  • COVID-19 reduced time available for staff to undertake training and development
  • COVID-19 financial impacts meant no money was available for training
  • COVID-19 has led to staff being furloughed who would have received training
  • COVID-19 has made staff reluctant to travel to or attend training courses
  • COVID-19 social distancing guidelines have prevented the running of training
F15B What barriers, if any, have there been preventing your organisation providing more training over the last 12 months for staff at this location? Probe: what other barriers have you faced?
  • COVID-19 meant that planned training courses were suspended / unavailable
  • COVID-19 financial impacts has meant we've lacked funds for training
  • COVID-19 has meant we can't spare more staff time (having them away on training)
  • COVID-19 has made it hard to find the time to organise training
  • COVID-19 has led to staff being furloughed who would have received training
  • COVID-19 has made staff reluctant to travel to training courses

As noted above, a new section of the questionnaire was also added to the 2020 questionnaire to explore the impacts of COVID-19, including:

  • The number of staff furloughed by employers via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (J1 and J1RAN);
  • How the furlough scheme was used in terms of use of flexible furlough options and rotating staff between periods of work and furlough (J2 and J7);
  • Whether staff had been made redundant due to the pandemic (J3) and whether this included staff previously on the furlough scheme (J4);
  • Whether establishments accessed government-backed financial support and whether this influenced furlough decisions (J5 and J6);
  • Activities undertaken by furloughed staff (J8);
  • The impact of COVID-19 on homeworking and productivity (J9 and J10); and,
  • The impact of COVID-19 on working practices (J11).

Piloting the 2020 survey

A pilot of the questionnaire was conducted between the 6th October and 8th October 2020 to test the suitability of changes made to the questionnaire, and to ensure the questionnaire flowed well and was of an appropriate length and nature for CATI-based interviewing. A total of 25 pilot interviews were completed among employers across a range of size bands and sectors. Sample for the pilot phase was drawn from the 2019 Scottish Employer Perspectives Survey (EPS), where respondents had given permission to be re-contacted for future research.

The pilot found that the survey questionnaire was running around 2 minutes over the target average length. Three further questions were deleted from the questionnaire, as shown in Appendix D. The pilot also helped to identify some further changes that were needed to help refine the new COVID-19 questions.

Questionnaire timings

The average overall interview length was around 26 minutes. This varied between different employers depending on their recruitment activities, experience of skill-shortage vacancies, internal skills gaps and training activities. (The length of the shortest interview was 7 minutes and the longest was 56 minutes).[5]

As shown in Table 4, interviews with larger establishments took longer on average given that they were more likely to have trained their staff and to have experienced skill-shortage vacancies and/or skills gaps given their greater number of employees.

Table 4: Average interview length by size of establishment
Sizeband (employees) Average length of interview
2 to 4 22 minutes
5 to 9 24 minutes
10 to 24 27 minutes
25 to 49 30 minutes
50 to 99 31 minutes
100 to 249 33 minutes
250 or more 32 minutes
Overall 26 minutes



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