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5 months ago by

UK Skills Shortages - A Brief Look Through A Post-COVID Lens

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What are the biggest skills shortages in the UK, and most importantly, what can we do about it?

A blossoming economy 

After a turbulent sixteen months for the UK economy, we’re beginning to see a more optimistic economic outlook with covid recovery plans well underway. We've seen growing evidence of the resilience of the labour market in the first half of 2021, and with restrictions easing we’re looking at a brighter second half of the year! Data from REC’s JobsOutlook survey highlights the increasing optimism amongst UK employers, suggesting confidence is returning when it comes to making new hires. According to the survey, hiring plans for permanent staff in the short and medium term has risen to the highest levels since December 2018. However, as the economy begins to blossom and the hiring market gathers momentum, businesses are once again faced with the challenge of finding skilled candidates, a problem that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and the EU trade deal (Brexit).

We’re going to look at which industries and occupations are facing the worst skills shortages in the UK, and why so many vacancies are increasingly difficult to fill. 

​Skills shortage by location

When it comes to the UK labour market there are notable disparities between regions in terms of the existence of skills shortages. Although workers are not infinitely mobile, the recent pandemic has shown that many people can successfully work from home, therefore employers are now able to widen their nets and attract remote workers.

Which industries and occupations are suffering most?

There’s a general consensus on which industries and occupations are deemed to be facing the worst shortages, although certain job roles stand out more than others, including:

  • Healthcare professionals - frompublic health managers and directors to biological scientists, lab technicians, residential care staff, psychologists, dentists, ophthalmologists, physiotehrapists, occupational therapists, nurses, midwives, social workers, paramedics, and residential and domiciliary care managers and staff

  • Scientists - All manner of science-based roles are included on the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List, from Biological Scientists and Biochemists to Engineering Geologists, Geophysicists and Social and Humanities Scientists.

  • Engineering - As with scientists, Engineers are in high demand across the UK. Roles on the Shortage Occupation List include Civil Engineers, Design and Development Engineers and Process Engineers.

  • IT and Digital - There’s an ever increasing demand for IT and Digital skills in the UK which has been exacerbated by Covid and the rise of the digital age, and a recent think tank has warned that the UK is heading towards a catastrophic digital skills shortage disaster. In-demand roles include Project Managers, Business Analysts, Architects, Web Designers and Developers, Software Engineers, Testers, Cybersecurity specialists, and AI and Robotics specialists.

  • Hospitality - Many hospitality businesses suffered tremendously during the pandemic despite government support, and thousands of people lost their jobs. However as restrictions ease, businesses are struggling to fill thousands of vacancies (most notably waiting staff, bar staff and chefs) to cope with the surge in demand. Industry experts have warned of an impending staffing crisis due to huge gaps left by EU workers who left the UK due to Brexit or the pandemic.

  • Graduates - SMEs are experiencing an acute shortage of graduates in comparison to larger organisations, who graduates tend to favour. IT graduates (in particular Developers), Nurses and HR professionals are sitting at the top of the list for hardest to fill graduate vacancies.

  • Recruitment and Sales - again SMEs are finding it harder than their larger competitors when it comes to attracting much sought after sales professionals and recruitment consultants.

  • Other roles - other difficult to fill roles include management consultants, financial professionals (actuaries, economists, statisticians, accountants), directors and CEOs, middle management, HR professionals, secondary school teachers and mechanical engineers.


Why are these positions increasingly difficult to fill? 

The latest Employer Skills Survey undertaken by the Department for Education (DfE), shows that one in four (24%) of all difficult-to-fill vacancies were simply due to skills shortages. 60% of these shortages appear in middle and high-skilled occupations, due to poor investment in skills development. Regarding IT and Tech roles, the number of students enrolling onto IT courses has declined over recent years. A survey by Prospects highlighted the following reasons employers are experiencing difficulties filling their roles:

Low number of applicants with the required skills 43.0%

Lack of work experience the company demands 28.6%

Low number of applicants generally 19.3%

Not enough people interested in doing this type of job 16.5%

Low no. of applicants with required attitude, motivation, personality 16.5%

Lack of qualifications the company demands 12.6%

Remote location/poor public transport 12.6%

Poor terms and conditions (e.g. pay) offered for post 12.4%

Job entails shift work/unsociable hours 9.8%

Too much competition from other employers 7.9%

Poor career progression/lack of prospects 3.3%

Lack of funding for the position 3.1%

Low number of suitable applicants inc. age of applicants 2.1%


Another factor that has impacted the supply and demand of skills across the UK is Brexit. Ending the free movement of labour between the continent and the UK means employers are no longer able to fill gaps in their workforce with workers from the EU. As previously mentioned, the hospitality sector has been most affected by this.


What’s the answer?
  • Government help - the governments’ multi-billion pound plan for jobs (including the Kickstart scheme) aims to support employers across the UK to create jobs and help jobseekers get the relevant skills/experience needed to fulfil these roles.

  • Education sector - the education sector is adapting and encouraging more paid apprenticeships. A huge investment has been made into apprenticeship schemes and the apprenticeship hiring incentive has been increased to £3,000 per new apprentice hire. This will hopefully encourage more people to gain new skills and qualifications via on the job learning.

  • Employer action - employers are being urged to look at their packages (salary / benefits), and consider the demand for flexible/hybrid working in order to attract employees.

 ‘Our research shows that UK companies will need to respond to skills shortages threats by transitioning up to a third of their workforces into new roles or skill levels over the next decade. If they fail to meet this challenge, they could find themselves with even more acute shortages of talent than today. Businesses can get ahead of the game through creative talent strategies. By identifying the roles and skills that will be needed in the future, companies can find the most effective and creative ways to acquire and nurture the right talent. The first is to build new skills among existing employees.’


  • Recruiter help - recruitment firms play a vital role in supporting businesses to fill their vacancies. REC’s Recruitment and Recovery report shows how the industry helps place over a million workers in employment each year. Recruiters play a crucial role in social mobility, helping over 300,000 people to leave unemployment for a permanent role annually, helping skilled workers gain access to new jobs as they arise.


​Let Meridian Business Support help you

Meridian Business Support is an award winning recruitment agency that operates in multiple specialist markets throughout the UK. We specialise in temporary, permanent and contract recruitment across four key sectors, Built Environment, Health, Office & Professional and Industrial. Whether you are a candidate looking for your next job, or a client looking for the ideal candidate, see what Meridian can do for you!

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