Bridging The Skills Gap

The UK Employer Skills Survey 2022 – Scotland Report, a study conducted by the UK government to gather information about the skills needs of employers, was published at the end of last month.

The Dual Challenge: Skills Shortages and Visa Restrictions

The report highlights the issues around skills shortages for Scottish employers. Ironically, this report came out a few days before the UK Government announced measures to make it harder for people to get work and family visas for the UK from Spring next year. Whereas previously, the UK’s skills shortage could be covered, to an extent, by foreign workers with the required skillset, that option will be more limited from April next year. For more information about the new thresholds for foreign, skilled workers, you can read this article on the Financial Times website.

Escalating Trends: Vacancies and Skill-Shortage Positions

Looking at the UK Employer Skills Survey and historical data, we see a rising trend in the percentage of businesses with vacancies, rising from 19% in 2015 to 25% in 2022. More notably, 31% of all open positions were classed as “skill-shortage vacancies”, meaning that they were hard to fill due to a lack of skills, knowledge, or experience among applicants.

So, what options are now available to employers?

Shifting Focus to Trainee-Level Staff and Apprenticeships

The survey highlights that skills “under-use” has risen from 33% in 2020 to 37% in 2022, indicating untapped potential within the current workforce. Additionally, 15% of employers had skills gaps within their current workforce although this figure is higher among Scottish Manufacturers with 19% of those businesses experience a skills gap within their business. In total, there were around 119,000 employees not fully proficient in 2022, representing 4.8% of the workforce in Scotland.

So, tapping into the under-utilised skills of your staff is one solution. An increase in Training & Development is another.

We have spoken to hiring managers within multiple manufacturing businesses in Scotland who have changed their focus from recruiting (or, trying to recruit) experienced staff, ready to hit the ground running and are now looking to recruit ‘Trainee’ level staff. This has been the case with skills such as CNC machining and some electronic manufacturing roles. Based on the survey, only 10% of Scottish employers employ apprentices. This has been a fairly consistent number over the last decade, however, for skill-based roles, this is an option that more employers could also consider.

Shifting Focus to Trainee-Level Staff and Apprenticeships

In Scotland, a majority of employers (64%), facilitated or financed training for their staff within the 12 months leading up to the survey. Among these, 54% of employers offered on-the-job training, while 40% extended off-the-job training opportunities to their personnel during the same period.

Conclusion: Navigating the Skills Shortage Landscape

In summary, the ‘Skills Shortage’ is real and is possibly going to get worse. There needs to be an ongoing commitment to Learning & Development to ensure that the skills that are required tomorrow, are available within the workforce. In addition, it is crucial for employers to adapt their recruitment strategies. With the UK government tightening work and family visa regulations, the traditional reliance on foreign workers to fill skill gaps is diminishing. The UK Employer Skills Survey underscores the rising trend in businesses with vacancies and the prevalence of skill-shortage positions, emphasising the urgency for proactive measures. Harnessing the under-utilised skills within the existing workforce and promoting Training & Development initiatives emerge as viable solutions.

The shift towards recruiting trainee-level staff, especially in disciplines with diminishing skills base in Scotland, highlights the adaptability required in navigating the evolving landscape of workforce development. Employers must not only invest in training programs but also consider embracing apprenticeships to cultivate the skilled workforce needed for sustained economic growth.