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UK skills gap: what businesses can do to mitigate the crisis

Business associates shaking hands in office

Skills shortages have been reported for some time now in the UK, but the prospect of Brexit and other factors suggest that a once-minor issue could become a disastrous problem for enterprises across a range of industries. Almost half of employers expect a shortfall of qualified candidates for permanent roles this year, according to research by the REC, while an annual survey of SMEs found that sourcing skilled staff is now the single greatest challenge.

The tech sector is particularly vulnerable to a skills gap that is quickly becoming a chasm as demand for experts outstrips supply considerably. Job search site Indeed revealed that the number of professionals looking to secure a job role in cybersecurity accounted for less than a third of the total jobs posted, which represents the second-biggest skills gap anywhere in the world. “The problem is fast approaching crisis point, and British businesses will inevitably be put at risk if they can’t find the expertise they need to mitigate the threat,” Indeed economist Mariano Mamertino adds.

Chronic skills shortages are also affecting the manufacturing industry, where 68 per cent of companies admit that job applicants often lack the requisite technical skills, and almost three-quarters express concern about bringing in the right mix of skills before the end of the decade.

Brexit chaos

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has exacerbated concerns and worries about the job market. Hired’s Mind the Gap report published in the wake of the Brexit storm last year found that a third of workers in the tech sector are from other European countries. While the UK Government is likely to work hard to get a deal to ensure that enterprises can still attract the best talent, the prospect of a diminished talent pool is real.

Brexit is just one aspect of a bigger problem for UK business though, as a new study by IPPR highlights a trend of lacklustre investment in employee training schemes. Spend is a staggering £6 billion less per employee compared to the EU average, while an uptick in the percentage of the workforce with degree-level qualifications has not resulted in a similar increase in productivity. It’s critical that against this backdrop of shortages, enterprises move heaven and earth to implement strategies that will go some way to closing current and future skills deficits.

 

What can businesses do?

Internal talent

IPPR is calling on the Government to implement a ‘Skills Levy’ to raise the £5.1 billion required to provide high-quality vocational education and training to employees. While the focus is often on bringing in new staff, enterprises should also improve their employee retention programmes and look to grow internal talent. PwC’s Millennials at Work study shows that the majority of workers are attracted to an organisation with the potential for career progressions. Upskilling the workforce is in your best interests anyway, as it will drive productivity and other positive business outcomes.

IPPR Associate Director for Work and Families Clare McNeil adds: “Britain’s economy can’t survive outside the European Union without bringing investment in skills into line with our competitors and making sure employers are making better use of workers’ skills.”

Hire contractors

Uncertainty across the business landscape means that you will often be better placed with a more flexible and scalable workforce. Hiring contractors registered with an umbrella company will enable you to access the skills that you need, and the fact that a third party will manage invoices and address any contractor pay issues alleviates the burden of paperwork and other processes that can be drain on time and resources during a recruitment drive. Contractors are also more likely to be skilled in a particular niche, which is vital for diversifying your team if growth is on the agenda.

Cross train

A culture focused on cross training or redeployment will also enable you to build a more efficient, agile and collaborative workforce and increase morale. Always be on the lookout for versatile internal employees that could make the move to another role and potentially cover for “irreplaceable” workers with specific technical skill sets. Doing so will also benefit external hiring, as it shows that the enterprise is ready and willing to invest in its staff.

Talent analytics

“Making better use of skills” has been noted as a solution for skills shortages by experts, and UK enterprises appear to be behind the curve in terms of using talent analytics to establish a holistic view of their workforce and recruitment. Leveraging data and statistics will enable you to see what exact skills you need. This will better inform any internal, cross training, redeployment and hiring strategies and allow key decision makers to map out the future of the business.

There won’t be a one-stop solution to the skills deficits felt across various sectors in the UK, but a multi-faceted strategy and smart investment could make the difference. J.P. Morgan exec Hang Ho concludes: “The right training is key to this, and it’s the joint responsibility of employers and policymakers to work together to ensure the UK’s current skills gap doesn’t widen any further and proactive steps are taken to reduce the gap.”

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