The UKCES Employer Skills Survey is one of the largest of its kind in the world. More than 91,000 employers across the UK are interviewed to draw together the data contained within the report, creating a comprehensive insight into the ways employers train and develop staff, as well as their experiences of where skills are lacking, and what those skills may be.

The results of the 2015 survey show us that employers are seeing a return to growth. There were a total of 928,000 vacancies reported in the 2015 survey – a 42 per cent increase from 2013 and the equivalent to almost 300,000 more opportunities for those hunting for work. This is a continuation of a trend seen since 2011, following recovery from the recession.

But although vacancies have risen, skill-shortage vacancies – where employers are unable to fill a vacancy due a lack of applicants with the right skills – have also grown. Employers are having difficulty finding the skilled people they need. In fact, skill-shortage vacancies have risen by a massive 130 per cent since 2011.

Skills issues are also not just tied to recruiting new employees, as many UK employers also face challenges in relation to getting the most out of their existing workforce. The Employer Skills Survey found that 14 per cent of establishments reported having staff who were not fully proficient in their role – a total of around 1.4 million.

More significantly, the survey also reveals that more employers who report having skills gaps have noticed an impact as a result. This is also particularly felt among smaller businesses – a concerning issue given that employers with less than five employees make up around half of all UK employers.

These figures show that the skills landscape in the UK is an increasingly complex one. On the one hand we have a surge in opportunities – fantastic news for those still desperate to get a strong foothold on the career ladder. Yet, on the other hand, it is clear that a major disconnect still exists between what employers desperately want, and the skills that people really have.

Clearly, there is a crucial role for the FE sector to play in resolving this, and better understanding the problem undoubtedly goes a significant way to helping create an effective solution. Delving deeper into our data can offer further insights into just what skills employers are so desperate to see.

In terms of the skills lacking in applicants, problem solving and analytical skills were both cited more frequently than reading, writing and numerical skills. When asked about skills which were present, but in need of improving, time management and customer handling skills dominated the responses.

A similar picture is also seen among existing employees, with over half of employers reporting time management and team working skills as being in need of improvement. Problem solving skills were again among the most absent among existing employees, while once more literacy, numeracy and IT skills were far easier to come across.

This clear shift towards softer personal and people skills presents new challenges for the FE sector. Employers are increasingly looking for far more than technical competency when recruiting, with recruits needing to be able to demonstrate experience in more pastoral capabilities that underpin good management.

But challenges bring with them opportunities, and using robust labour market intelligence – such as the Employer Skills Survey – to help shape training, courses and curricula and wider working practices to better develop and utilise people’s skills to meet employers’ needs.

Such intelligence can also provide high quality careers information, about jobs and what employers require, enabling young people to make effective, long term career choices based on the demands of employers in a particular sector or geography.

Lesley Giles is deputy director at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. For more information on the Employer Skills Survey, and to view the findings in full, visit


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