Nearly a quarter of vacancies in the UK have gone unfilled because of a shortage of much-needed skills, a survey of 91,000 UK employers has revealed.
The Employer Skills Survey, by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), found that 22 per cent of the 655,000 vacancies in the UK remained untaken because employers could not find workers with the right skills.
Within England, the number of skill-shortage vacancies has nearly doubled since 2009, increasing from 63,100 to 124,800.
The survey, made up of 87,572 interviews, taking in 91,000 separate businesses across all UK sectors, found that jobs in skilled trades, management, professional roles, caring, leisure and machine operating were most affected.
Among the skills needed were “oral and written communication, literacy and numeracy skills” — something which seems to have worsened since the last survey in 2011.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock 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.”
The 200-page report, published on Thursday, January 30, also revealed that employers found 17 and 18-year-olds recruited from college were more ready for work than those of the same age recruited from school — 66 per cent of employers said school-leavers were well or very well prepared, while almost three quarters (74 per cent) said the same of college leavers.
Policy director Andy Gannon of the 157 Group, said: “The survey results are encouraging, but they demonstrate that all concerned can do more to boost training and skills levels.
“It is good that the report recognises the increased employability of college leavers, and we know that FE colleges stand ready to work… with employers and their representatives to ensure economic growth through an increasingly skilled workforce.
“In many areas, these relationships are already bearing fruit, and demonstrating the critical importance of colleges in delivering prosperity for all.”
Association of Colleges president Michele Sutton said: “The fact that employers are more positive about colleges leavers than school-leavers demonstrates clearly that gaining the high-quality qualifications colleges offer is the key to making young people more employable.
“The information that employers are reporting an increase in vacancies due to skills shortages is a real concern.
“It is proof that more vocational education is needed — whether alone or alongside academic qualifications — in order to bridge the gap.”
She added: “Colleges already play a key role in working closely with employers in their area to make sure they are providing young people with the right skills for the local jobs market, often through apprenticeships.”
The UKCES report also showed that total employer investment in training staff had fallen by 5 per cent between 2011 and 2013 (from £45.3bn to £42.9bn).
David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute for Continuing Adult Learning, said: “This survey reinforces our concerns about handing over the ownership of the entire skills system to employers.
“To have a vibrant and effective skills system that meets the needs of business and wider society, it has to be led by a partnership of employers, learners and Government and must balance their interests.”
“If you step back from this survey and look at other evidence, including our own annual participation survey, this points to the need to stimulate informed demand for learning from young people, adults and employers. The only way you can achieve that kind of informed demand and ensure that there are enough people with the right level of skills for a successful economy and an inclusive society is through a partnership of employers, learners, Government and colleges and training providers working together.”
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt, of the, said: “More than 60 per cent of the skills shortages identified by employers were ‘technical, practical or job specific’.
“It is often not that people aren’t skilled enough… but that skills need to be applied more effectively.
“It’s vital employers commit to providing necessary training for their existing employees… employers need to invest more, not less, if they want to effectively address their skills deficits.”
Neil Carberry, Confederation of British Industry director for employment and skills, said: “The flip side of faster growth is an escalating skills crisis.
“While this isn’t surprising, it makes it all the more urgent to close the skills gaps in science, technology, engineering and maths to support the recovery.”
He added that a “sea-change quality of careers advice” would make young people “more aware of the opportunities and rewards of working in key sectors which face skills shortages.”
The report also found that nearly half of employers across the UK (48%) admit they recruit people with higher levels of skills and knowledge than are required for the job.
Jan Hodges, chief executive of the Edge Foundation, said the high level of skills shortages combined with issue of some workers being over-qualified for their jobs showed “young people need much better information, advice and guidance, and high quality work experience.”
“They need to know which qualifications and pathways lead to the best prospects,” she said.
Early airing for employer findings at Skills Summit
Around 150 delegates at the Skills Summit in central London got a preview of the Employer Skills Survey.
Michael Davis, UK Commission for Employment and Skills chief executive, said the survey presented “a mixed picture [with] positive trends, but also significant challenges”.
“All of these challenges need to be better understood and tackled if the UK is to have the skills needed for sustainable recovery,” he said at the event on Tuesday, January 28.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock was also at the conference, where he announced plans to build a new nuclear specialist college, while Skills Funding Agency executive director of provider management Marinos Paphitis said staff cuts at his organisation would not affect performance.
The agency announced a restructure late last year, leaving more than 1,000 staff uncertain of their futures
“There will be less of us… We’re going to be smarter, we’re going to do more things centrally, but we are going to have the relationships as well,” said Mr Paphitis.
“What we’re not going to stop doing is intervening where bad things happen. We have now got a systematic approach and we’re not tolerating failure.”