Warning of worsening in UK skills shortage

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Image source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Skills shortages were found in trades like plumbing, as well as health and social care

Worsening shortages of skills may stop UK businesses from taking advantage of the economic recovery, research says.

In a survey of 91,000 employers, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found more than one in five vacancies were down to a poor skills base.

The UKCES found 146,200 job vacancies (22%) last year were unfilled because of inadequate skills, compared with 91,400 (16%) two years earlier.

The warning comes as the UK economy is reported to show signs of recovery.

On Tuesday, figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed the UK economy grew by 1.9% in 2013, its strongest rate since 2007.

The UKCES report - Skills for Sustainable Recovery - found there were 655,000 vacancies in the UK between March and July 2013, up from 586,500 in 2011.


It suggests that the problem of inadequate skills, qualifications or experience in the workforce is hitting some industries harder than others, with more skills shortages found in areas such as manufacturing, construction and plumbing, as well as in health and social care.

The study said employers struggled to find employees with the "core generic skills" of communication, literacy and numeracy.

The report said: "There has been an increase in the proportion of skill-shortage vacancies resulting from a lack of communication skills, particularly oral communication (41%, up from 37% in 2011), as well as a lack of literacy (34% up from 28% in 2011) and numeracy skills (26%, up from 24%)."

It also found nearly half of employers across the UK (48%) admitted to recruiting people with higher levels of skills and knowledge than were required for the job.

The research found the number of establishments providing training for their staff was back to levels seen before the recession.

However, the amount spent on training decreased from £1,680 per employee in 2011 to £1,590 in 2013.

The UKCES said only a minority of businesses were prepared to give education leavers their first job, but when they did, they found these new recruits to be generally well-prepared for work.

College leavers were reported by employers to be more "work ready" than school leavers of the same age.

Douglas McCormick, a commissioner at UKCES, said: "Whilst the rise in the number of vacancies is a good sign that the economy is recovering, there's a real possibility that businesses might not be able to make the most of the upturn because they don't have the right people.

"This shows that businesses need to start thinking about planning their talent pipeline now - not waiting until they are unable to fulfil contracts because of a lack of skilled staff."

Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills and Enterprise, said: "Employers in some sectors report persistent skills shortages, which is why I have been working hard to design a skills system that is rigorous in the training it provides and responsive to the needs of employers.

Careers advice

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills for the CBI, said: "The flipside of faster growth is an escalating skills crisis.

"We must expand access to high-quality apprenticeships and other 'learn while you earn' schemes and ensure that these meet the needs of both businesses and employees.

"To equip young people with the knowledge they need, there must also be a sea change in the quality of careers advice in schools, so they are more aware of the opportunities and rewards of working in key sectors which face skills shortages."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's great that more businesses want to recruit. But with jobseekers outnumbering vacancies by four to one, it's hugely frustrating that across the UK a large number of jobs go unfilled because of local skills shortages.

"Employers, unions and government must each play their part in tackling the UK's damaging skills shortages."

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