UK firms struggling to recruit skilled workers amid immigration concerns

The prolonged shortage of skilled workers is 'not sustainable,' according to a new report. Photo: Getty

UK employers are facing continued skills shortages among workers amid concerns that the UK’s future immigration system could cause further problems in finding the right talent, a new report has found.

The UK workforce is suffering from a “critical skills deficit,” according to a survey of 6,200 business chiefs by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and jobs site Totaljobs.

Just over half (55%) of respondents said they were looking for new staff, but skills shortages made an impact as three out of four (72%) firms reported recruitment difficulties in hiring suitably qualified staff.

Concerns over the uncertainty of the UK’s future immigration regime were highlighted as an issue facing recruiters.

“As the UK forms new economic relationships with the EU and partners across the world, businesses also need clarity on who they can recruit. As things stand, businesses don’t know who they can hire, and under what conditions, from New Year’s Day 2021. That’s unacceptable,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC.

“The government needs to act swiftly to deliver a fast, flexible new immigration system that allows firms to access staff at all skill levels, and limits upfront fees, delays and costly red tape,” he said.

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The prolonged shortage of skilled workers faced by companies is “not sustainable,” according to the report, with skills shortage hitting the construction and hospitality sectors hardest, with 79% and 77% respectively struggling to recruit.

BCC and Totaljobs are calling on the government to address critical skills shortages in the Budget next month, including commitments to long-term funding for vocational education and for apprenticeships in small and medium-sized businesses.

They are also urging the government to review the Apprenticeship Levy, a tax which hits every business with a payroll of over £3m ($3.9m), to ensure firms can use the funds to train their employees.

More flexibility for employers on how funds can be utilised towards vital non-apprenticeship or accredited training could help to make better use of the budget and upskill the UK workforce, the report suggested.

A quarter (26%) of UK firms say they plan to increase their workforce in the first quarter of 2020.

The construction industry reports the highest proportion of firms (34%) looking to recruit skilled workers.

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“Although it is encouraging that businesses are looking to take on people, the prolonged skills shortages they’re facing are not sustainable as they try to shake off years of political uncertainty and pursue growth,” Marshall said.

“Training has got to be at the heart of the upcoming budget if the government wishes to demonstrate that it is serious about levelling up opportunity all across the UK.

Jon Wilson, general manager of Totaljobs, said: “The market is very much active and hiring intentions remain strong, yet skills shortages continue to impact many UK businesses, as one factor contributing to the UK’s low productivity rate.

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“UK businesses need to ensure they have robust training opportunities to keep the people they need. Totaljobs research shows that two thirds of UK workers have left a job due to a lack of learning and development. Clearly, learning new skills is very much tied up in job satisfaction.”