7th November 2016UK skills shortage – how can the gap be filled?

Whilst it’s good news that the UK’s employment statistics show that more people are in work than ever before, looking a little deeper into the government’s statistics reveals that there are around 750,000 unfilled vacancies in the economy at any one time.

In May, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills published its Employer Skills Survey 2015 (ESS). It revealed what it referred to as the ‘dark side’ of the continuing increase in employment – the growing number of jobs left unfilled because companies can’t find the right people with appropriate skills. This is particularly true of the construction sector which is strategically important because of its contribution to housing, infrastructure and initiatives that drive economic growth.

A mismatch of skills

ESS figures show that around 1.5m workers (5% of the workforce) are thought to be under-qualified for their job, leading to a drop in business efficiency, declining productivity and the inability to open up new markets. Companies recruiting staff often find that the exact skills required just aren’t available in the market place, and so find themselves recruiting people with sub-optimal skills rather than leaving vacancies unfilled.

In addition, the ESS pointed to the 4.6m employees regarded as overqualified for their job. This is a particular problem in the graduate market. According to their data, 58.8% of graduates are employed in non-graduate positions; the third highest number in Europe after Greece and Estonia. To make matters worse, a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that of the 23 countries surveyed, England’s teenagers were the most likely to have low levels of literacy, and second most likely to have poor numeracy skills.

Tackling the problem

Many commentators have advocated a complete rethink within the education system, shifting the balance from outdated functional skills to real-world learning experiences. This could be achieved, they believe, by a much closer cooperation between colleges and universities on the one hand and employers and government agencies on the other.

Apprenticeships are seen as a good way of preparing workers for the world of work, and aren’t limited to producing manual workers like plumbers and bricklayers. Today, apprenticeships can cover all manner of job skills, including digital proficiency and customer interaction. The government has pledged to provide 3m apprenticeships by 2020, establishing the Apprenticeships Delivery Board to drive this initiative forward. Its aim is to ensure that these apprenticeships include high-quality on-the-job training backed up with nationally-recognised qualifications delivered through college courses.

There is much that employers can do to tackle the problem within their own businesses. Delivering programmes of continuous learning and development helps ensure that employee skills remain relevant to workplace needs at all times. Carrying out a skills audit and mapping future skills requirements can help businesses plan more effectively, and recruit appropriately for the future.

Another important aspect of this problem concerns the need for businesses to address staff turnover, and ensure that they are offering the right type of working environment that will be attractive to talented individuals. This may mean offering more flexible working arrangements including the opportunity to work from home, part time or on a flexible contract.

With Brexit on the horizon, it’s never been more important than now that businesses and government work together to close the gap and ensure that the UK workforce is appropriately skilled to face the challenges that may lie ahead.

T 020 7388 7000
E advice@hwfisher.co.uk

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