Vacancies outweigh enrolments: The UK skills gap continues
The UK skills gap continues, but that means opportunity in high-tech professional roles. Source: Taylor Grote/Unsplash

With continuous demand for skilled employees in some of the UK’s most prosperous sectors, the nation’s skills gap is a well-publicised crisis that, according to a report by Open University, costs the country more than £2.2bn a year.

Further findings have stated 97 percent of organisations working in STEM and 96 percent of financial organisations have had difficulty hiring skilled employees over the last 12-months.

The tech sector has particularly struggled, with a 2017 report by Tech Nation revealing that over 50 percent of business owners in the UK digital tech community are experiencing a shortage of highly skilled employees, while a quarter said sourcing talent was a major challenge.

To find out more, the research team at Bidwells compared industry vacancies against undergrad enrolments in 2017, uncovering which areas have the most significant deficits.

University enrolments Vs. Average Industry Vacancies

Industry Vacancies 2018 Enrolments 2017 Gap
Professional & scientific tech 72,000 21,970 -69.49%
Construction 28,000 9,310 -66.75%
Education 50,000 16,745 -66.51%
Health & social work 133,000 64,115 -51.79%
Manufacturing 59,000 34,020 -42.34%
Information & communication 44,000 26,100 -40.68%
Admin, financial & insurance 94,000 79,095 -15.86%
Arts & entertainment 19,000 50,340 164.95%
Data: ONS average industry vacancies 2018 and HESA full-time, first degree university enrolments 2017. Source: Bidwells

A combination of valuable economic skills and high-level technical education is critical to meeting the UK’s skills needs. Yet despite growing student enrolments in fields like computer science and tech, new jobs in these high-growth sectors still outweigh the number of skilled workers to fill them.

The latest British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey indicates that the skills shortage is reaching a critical level, with 75 percent of businesses in the manufacturing sector and 71 percent in the services sector reporting recruitment difficulties.

The Open University found 91 percent of organisations struggled to find skilled talent in the last 12-months, having to spend money on higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staff as a result. Brexit adds a further level of uncertainty for companies and their ability to recruit the world’s top talent.

High Growth Sectors Facing Challenges

The analysis of university enrolments demonstrates the mismatch between market demand for skills, and the future supply of talent is particularly acute in knowledge-based industries. This suggests current vacancies in professional and scientific tech positions are three times higher than the total number of university enrolments in these subjects.

Science and tech jobs are predicted to grow twice as fast as other occupations, with 142,000 new jobs in science, research, engineering and tech anticipated by 2023. Looking further ahead, The London Datastore projects the information and communication sector will be the second-highest-growing sector over the coming decade in the UK, with an estimated 45 percent increase in employment growth by 2050.

According to the Industrial Strategy, these sectors are the most significant to the UK’s economic future, but the shortages of suitably qualified, high-skilled labour will present a brake on the UK economy unless addressed.

Investing in Local and Foreign Talent

Will Heigham, Lead Partner for Science and Technology at Bidwells concludes,

“Having already had a major impact on employment and skills, digitisation is set to cause even more disruption in the decades ahead, making it crucial for the current workforce to embrace continuously adapting skill sets and a changing workplace landscape. However, the analysis of UK university output underlines the fact that companies will need to continue to look further afield.

“In a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, when businesses were asked how they would respond to a potential restriction on access to EU workers, only 43 percent said their business wouldn’t be affected, while some aim to pay additional costs to recruit from the EU, relocate businesses partially or completely overseas, or retain older employees.

“Preliminary results of our survey of major international R&D companies indicate skilled labour is the most important issue for companies when choosing sites for R&D facilities (Bidwells and Creative Places, 2018).  The UK urgently needs to put in place measures to both deliver homegrown talent for the future as well as ease the process for attracting the best in class globally.”

By Will Heigham, Lead Partner for Science and Technology at Bidwells

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