The highest number of job vacancies for five years shows the large gap between the skills workers have and the skills the UK economy needs. Skilled workers are in high demand, provided they have the right skills that employers can make use of. Lewis Silkin LLP asks why there is a UK skills gap, and what employers can do about it.
Job vacancies reached their highest total since 2008 during the period from February to April 2013, according to official statistics, despite a rise in the headline unemployment rate. With employers reporting difficulties in finding candidates with the required skills, this dislocation in the labour market highlights a growing mismatch between skills and jobs.
Over recent decades, a number of different factors have transformed the nature of work. Technological progress is accelerating, generating the need for new skills in innovative job roles and emerging sectors. An increasingly knowledge-intensive economy is driving demand for highly-skilled staff with specialised talents and expertise, while automation continues to eliminate many, often lesser-skilled, jobs. Meanwhile, globalisation enables businesses to access pools of lower-cost talent and outsource or off-shore many job types. These trends are leading to a polarisation of jobs at either end of the skill and wage spectrum.
Flexibility facilitated by technology
Shifting priorities in the workplace are also widening the gap. The recession has forced many employers to focus on efficiency and productivity, often resulting in a move towards a more flexible labour model with higher use of part-time and contingent working. Facilitated by the rise of technology, this change has suited the desire of many “in demand” skilled workers for greater freedom.
But this drive for flexibility has had a less positive impact on more vulnerable sections of the workforce, witnessed for example by a marked increase in the use of zero-hours contracts in recent times. Many economists view this rise in contingent working as not only skewing employment statistics, which show an upward trend in employment growth over the past year, but also masking significant underemployment in particular segments of the workforce.
Talent pipeline vs talent acquisition
Developing workforce skills is a critical priority for business, yet the pace of change has left the “pipeline” of skilled workers lagging behind. A recent survey by PwC revealed that the skills gap is seen by UK corporate leaders as the greatest threat to business growth. Employers are looking to the Government to put in place measures to help support and develop the skills base, but the necessary structural changes to the education and unemployment system to facilitate this will take time. Increasingly, employers are bearing the burden of training and development.
More positively, however, tackling the skills gap also creates opportunities for employers. By exploiting technology and offering flexible working arrangements, employers can access pools of untapped talent such as female and older workers. Collaborating with schools and further education institutions can also be a fruitful strategy.
Vocational training needed
Work experience opportunities, mentoring schemes and sponsored degree courses all help create a variety of avenues into work for young people, providing a means for employers to access the talents of the youth unemployed.
Prioritising investment in home-grown talent through workforce training and offering work-based qualifications enables employees to develop new skills to meet the challenges of an evolving world of work. This also boosts engagement and retention levels - something that bonuses and pay rises can seldom deliver in the current economic climate.
There’s no doubt that the world of work will continue to evolve. Employers that take strategic action to equip their workforce with the right skills will be best placed to adapt to novel trends and take advantage of emerging opportunities while navigating the changing employment landscape.
By Madeleine Jephcott, Lewis Silkin
Are you seeing skills gap in your workplaces? How can employers meet these gaps? Share your thoughts using the comments section below. For more on the skills gap from Lewis Silkin, read this.
For more original comment articles like this, subscribe to our monthly spam-free future of work newsletter.