'Sort out immigration to end skills deficit' say employers

The growing skills shortage confronting British companies and the pressing need for a "fast, flexible" immigration system have been highlighted in a major new survey.

Conducted among 6,200 company executives by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and jobs site Totaljobs, the survey found that more than half attempted to recruit in the last quarter of 2019, but almost three-quarters struggled to find the talent they sought.

UK companies expect to hire in Q1 2020

The survey also found that skills shortages continued to impact growth but that, as a result of the UK's new-found political stability, some 26% of companies expected to increase the size of their workforces in the first quarter of this year.“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," said Adam Marshall, director-general of BCC.“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. Funding boosts are needed for vocational and technical education, for apprenticeships, and for incentives to help more employers provide high-quality, job-related training.

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“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. 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.”

UK faces critical skills shortages

The survey found there was "a critical skills deficit" across the country with shortages most acute in the construction and hospitality sectors, with 79% and 77% respectively reporting recruitment problems."In both these sectors – and others – uncertainty over the UK’s future immigration regime continues to be a concern," said the BCC.The report also called on the government to review the Apprenticeship Levy, which is paid by firms with a payroll of more than £3 million, to ensure employers could have greater flexibility on how funds could be used on vital non-apprenticeship or accredited training schemes to upskill their workforces.

Totaljobs: UK businesses should have robust training opportunities to keep staff

Jon Wilson, general manager of Totaljobs, said, “The market is very much active and hiring intentions remain strong, with Totaljobs seeing 640,000 jobs advertised alongside over 12 million job applications in Q4 2019."Yet skills shortages continue to impact many UK businesses, as one factor contributing to the UK’s low productivity rate.“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. For SMEs particularly, training budgets can be an issue, which is why dedication and support from the government is essential in order to help the UK workforce upskill.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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