Press release

Skills survey shows job vacancies and skills shortages increase

A sharp rise in skills shortages could be holding back the UK’s economic recovery.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Employer Skills Survey cover

A report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) finds that the number of job vacancies in England has returned to pre-recession levels. However, so-called “skills shortage vacancies” - where businesses cannot find recruits with the skills required - are growing twice as fast.

The UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey (ESS) interviewed over 90,000 employers between March and July 2013. They reported a total of 559,600 job vacancies in England – up 45% per cent from 2009. However, skills shortage vacancies nearly doubled over the same period, increasing from 63,100 to 124,800.

Overall, skills shortage vacancies – which occur when employers cannot find people with the right skills and qualifications to do the job - now account for more than one in five of all vacancies (22%) up from one in six (16%) in 2009.

Douglas McCormick, a Commissioner at UKCES and managing director of the UK rail business at Atkins, a design, engineering and project management consultancy 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.

Worryingly, these figures show that the percentage of staff in the UK receiving training from their employer hasn’t changed significantly for a decade. There are also signs that some employers might be trying to solve their skills problems by choosing to recruit highly-skilled and qualified staff to do very basic jobs. Under-using people’s skills like this risks a bored and demotivated workforce. By providing high-quality and job-specific training, businesses can make sure they have the skilled workforce they need, as well as inspiring loyalty and keeping their staff motivated.

The report also finds that

  • skills shortages are much more prevalent in some occupations and sectors than others – for example, in skilled trades such as plumbing and in health and social care
  • the density of skills shortages varies across the UK, being most acute in Scotland, where 25% of vacancies are caused by skills shortages, and less of a problem in Northern Ireland, where they account for 19% of vacancies
  • nearly half of employers across the UK (48%) admit they recruit people with higher levels of skills and knowledge than required for the job
  • the number of establishments providing training for their staff is back to pre-recession levels, although the amount spent on training has decreased from £1,680 per employee in 2011 to £1,590 in 2013
  • only a minority of business are prepared to give education leavers their first job, but when they do, they find their new recruits are generally well-prepared for work. College leavers are reported as more “work ready” than school leavers of the same age

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.

With a record number of people in jobs as our economy continues to grow we must have a skilled workforce equipped to work in a modern economy and compete effectively in the global race.

Published 30 January 2014