UK Skill Shortages – Not Just a Hiring Problem

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

UK Skill Shortages

It seems odd that the UK, one of the major economies of the world and with record numbers of students entering university, should be suffering from a shortage of skilled workers. But that’s exactly where we are. And it’s getting worse.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills ‘Employer Skills Survey 2017’ highlighted the following:

  • in 2017, 20% of establishments surveyed had vacancies, consistently up from 14% in 2011
  • 8% had ‘hard-to-fill’ vacancies, up from 4% in 2011
  • 6% had skill-shortage vacancies, up from 3% in 2011
  • 22% of all vacancies in 2017 were skill-shortage, up from 16% in 2011
  • this equates to 226,000 skill-shortage vacancies in 2017 vs. 91,000 in 2011
  • by actual number, Business Services had the highest number of skill-shortage vacancies at 52,000
  • by percentage of all vacancies in the sector, construction was highest at 36%
  • 42% of all Skilled Trades positions (electricians etc.) were proving hard-to-fill

The ‘UK Skill Shortages’ topic is broad and complex, also covering skill gaps in the workplace (over-qualified staff as well as staff not fully proficient – a number thankfully falling as return on investment in training bears fruit), as well as the reasons for the lack of skilled applicants in the first place. These are beyond the scope of this blog, but the implications and ramifications are not.

The survey does look at the impact of skill-shortage vacancies (respondents choosing from a menu of options*):

Note that the skill-shortage vacancies go far beyond the facilities management skills we’re interested in here but, nonetheless, the health and safety implications are wide-ranging – from the wellness aspects of increasing the workload for other staff, to the issues around managing an increasing number of contractors.

Those sectors most likely to try to solve skill-shortages through contracting (again, according to the survey) are Public Administration, Information and Communications, Business Services, and Construction. It’s difficult to be too analytical with the survey data and compare and contrast with HSE data because the sectors are not consistently defined. For example, Utilities is lumped with Primary Sector (including Agriculture) in the survey but is distinctly separate in the HSE data.

That said, Utilities provides an interesting case study for the challenges of skill-shortages. The Energy and Utilities Skills Group predicts the UK utilities sector will have 221,000 vacancies by 2027 with around 40% of those being due to retirees which then also causes a ‘proficiency’ challenge as new employees are brought up to speed.

Statistics like this are a demonstration of the real and present challenges the utilities and other sectors face. The utilities sector is working to bridge the skills gap with initiatives like upskilling those currently in the sector. This is not happening fast enough, however. The result is companies in the utilities sector looking for alternative solutions to fill vacancies. This inevitably includes using contractors, a source of labour utilities companies are becoming increasingly reliant on.

Increased Government investment is also putting pressure on skills availability. The Government has committed over £400 billion in 600+ major projects through 2021 and more than half of these are in the utilities sector. Delivering these projects requires workers, with contractors filling the inevitable void.

To better understand the challenges presented by an increasing reliance on contractors and how to solve for those, please join our upcoming webinar ‘The Contractor Management Imperative’.

* Surveys asking for respondents to select from a pre-determined list of options do run the risk of missing valid responses not listed.

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