- UK skills shortage: short-term concern or long-term crisis?

The UK skills shortage is at an all-time high, with the shortage of workers falling across multiple sectors including engineering, accounting, hospitality and care.

The stats

Job vacancies have risen by 16,000 from last year up to 767,000 (Office of National Statistics, May 2017), yet unemployment levels have dropped lower than they have been in over a decade, with not enough relevant, skilled applicants available to fill the jobs. Recruiters are struggling to find suitable applicants for more than 60 roles from cleaner to accountant (Kevin Green, Chief Executive, Recruitment and Employment Confederation, 2017).

A survey of 500 employers reported that 69% of them were worried about not being able to find enough highly-skilled staff. This figure is up from 55% the previous year. These concerns have only worsened after the vote to leave the EU, with employers fearing for the impact this decision could have on businesses, with the reduction in skilled migrants to the UK (CBI, 2016). According to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, EU migrants are increasingly reluctant to apply for jobs in the UK, which is affecting a swathe of different jobs across the economy with varying skill levels (The Telegraph, 2017).

Employers losing confidence

The above mentioned survey results also revealed a change in the jobs market, with employers wanting to recruit more skilled staff and cut back on the number of low-skilled jobs. There is uncertainty over whether this is possible for every business though, with more than two-thirds of firms not confident that there are enough employees to meet the demand (BBC, 2016).

The basic skill-level of the average worker is also a worry for employers, with almost a third of businesses apprehensive about the literacy and numeracy levels of their new employees (BBC, 2016).

The Government’s answer

We have told you about the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy in April’s blog post, ‘Understanding the New Apprenticeship Levy’. This scheme is still receiving mixed emotions from experts and employers; some believe that it is forcing a certain type of training onto employers, that might not always be the most suitable for the employee or the role. Other people believe that building on the next generation of employee’s knowledge can only be a good thing. Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy at the Chartered Management Institute said; “We need to stop knocking the apprenticeship levy and remember why it exists, we’re failing to invest in the future and hurting our international competitiveness” (BBC News, 2016).

Your options

Some employers are taking matters into their own hands and creating schemes that they hope will attract hard-working employees and benefit both the employee and the business. Investment bank Goldman Sachs, who have expressed their struggles to find skilled employees, have now decided to offer a five-year degree-based apprenticeship, where employees work at the bank for three days per week then spend two days at university.

Chances are, you are not all going to have the same employee training budget as Goldman Sachs, so what can you do to make sure your business isn’t under-resourced?

Depending on your budget, you can take similar action and provide training that is relevant to you and your employees. If you have a higher wage bill than £3 million per annum, remember that you will also have to pay into the Apprenticeship Levy (find out more about this here), so remember to factor those costs into your budget planning to ensure you have enough for all the planned training.

Ideally have a two prong ‘act’, short term and long term. Things to consider:

1. Do you have staff with some experience that would benefit and welcome additional training courses, i.e. one-day workshops or a short college course that you could contribute towards the cost?
2. Older employees heading towards or newly retired may value the opportunity to work a few hours a week ‘training’ and imparting their wealth of knowledge to young colleagues
3. Do you have the time and resources to take a long-term view and employ a young inexperienced apprentice? Working with them and your local college to create a training programme could be mutually beneficial

Training is not a quick fix – if you need someone to come in and hit the ground running, you will need to find a way to attract the skilled workers.

What else is yet to come?

One thing that is clear is that salaries are rising due to businesses competing over skilled workers (The Telegraph), although recruiters have said that this is only at a modest pace. This might mean that you have to re-assess your salary budgets or perhaps adjust the roles of employees to find ways that are both beneficial to the business and work for the employee. For example, if an employee is weaker in an area that another employee is strong in, could you swap the responsibility of this area over to the stronger employee? However, if you do this, be sure to make sure work-loads are evened-out. We can help you with all of these matters, get in touch to find out more.

There is then the unknown Brexit factor to consider – what affect this will have long-term no-one can say, but as we already know, the short-term affect is a drop in available employees. There is also the possibility of current EU employees leaving their jobs and the UK whilst they still feel they can do so of their own accord. Neil Carberry of CBI has said it is “absolutely critical” that businesses have clarity on the status of EU nationals currently working in the UK.”

For advice on any of these issues, contact us on 01582 883299 or email su@suallen.co.uk.