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The UK’s Skills Shortage and How Employers Can Overcome It

Written by Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce | 20 May 2022

If you’ve been struggling to recruit the right people into your business recently, then you’re not alone. There is a ‘skills shortage’ in the UK, and between January and March 2022, vacancies rose to a record 1,288,000. This also comes against a backdrop of Brexit and a pandemic, both of which have been blamed for labour shortages. Some sectors have received particular attention, for example, the shortage of HGV drivers following the UK’s exit from the EU, and the difficulties in finding hospitality staff since the pandemic.

The skills shortage: a new problem?

But are Brexit and the pandemic responsible for the skills shortage? In 2021, a CIPD report “found that four in ten (39%) employers have hard-to-fill vacancies”. This was only a 3% increase in the numbers of employers reporting this same problem in 2019, pre-pandemic. The exception is the hospitality, arts and recreation industry, which has seen levels rise from 12% in 2020 to 51% in 2021.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between a labour and skills shortage. There are many reasons a vacancy might be hard to fill. For example, working hours, pay, job security, and career progression are reasons often cited. These are more likely to be the reasons the hospitality industry is struggling post pandemic.

The truth is the skills shortage is a longstanding issue and recent events have only compounded it. In 2019, before both Brexit and the pandemic, the Department for Education conducted an Employer’s Skills Survey. This estimated that 24% of vacancies were ‘skills-shortage vacancies’. However, for the construction and manufacturing industries, this rose to 36%. The CIPD found a similar picture, with construction companies reporting an average of only five applications for medium-skilled vacancies in 2021, down from the average of ten applications seen in 2019. Anyone who has tried to get a skilled tradesperson recently will know they are still in short supply as they play ‘catch-up’ on the work they couldn’t complete during lockdowns.

However, manufacturing and construction are not the only industries struggling. There is also a data skills shortage. In their 2021 report, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found that 48% of the businesses they spoke to were “recruiting for roles requiring hard data skills”, but 46% had “struggled to recruit for these roles over the last two years”.

Healthcare is another area experiencing difficulties. According to the ONS, human health and social work saw the largest growth in vacancies during the first quarter of 2022. While the CIPD’s survey data found 39% of employers had hard-to-fill vacancies in 2021, this rose to 49% for health and social care.

With the skills shortage persisting post Brexit and pandemic, how can employers overcome these challenges?

How employers can overcome the skills shortage

While the government has now closed their Kickstart scheme, which was introduced during the pandemic, there are other initiatives aimed at tackling the skills shortage, one of which is apprenticeships, which is a popular choice for many employers.

A great way to overcome the skills shortage is by upskilling current employees. At the moment, statistics suggest that there is a mismatch between the labour available and the skills needed by employers. Upskilling employees would go some way towards addressing this issue. The government, too, is looking at upskilling. In December 2021, the Department for Education announced plans to introduce over 100 short courses. These are due to start in September 2022 and aim to help people retrain or upskill. Lasting for between six weeks and one year, they will cover shortage skills subjects such as “Digital, Net Zero, Education, STEM and Healthcare – offering an alternative to studying a traditional three-year degree.” They also announced they would open a further nine Institutes of Technology.

Of course, for positions where there is a skills shortage, employers can also employ someone from outside the UK via the Skilled Worker visa. While the process might seem long-winded and complicated, help is available.

Support available in Bedfordshire

In fact, at the Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce there are many ways in which we support our members to overcome the skills shortage. We’re able to help them navigate visa sponsorship, apprenticeships and any other local or national schemes that might apply. Many businesses are unaware of what is available, and we can guide them through the options, so they can get the right employees for their business. We’re also a powerful business voice, lobbying government on a local and national level, making sure they know what our local businesses need.  

If you’re a local business facing recruitment challenges or a skills shortage, get in touch to find out more about how we can help.

Topics: business

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