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Demand for workers remains high as staffing shortages grow

There were a total of 1.66 million active job adverts in the UK at the end of August, with HGV drivers and nurses in the highest demand.

According to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)’s latest Jobs Recovery Tracker the last five weeks have seen the highest weekly figures in job adverts since mid-December 2020.

The number of new job adverts being posted each week has remained high since early June and in the period from 23-29 August there were 193,000 new job postings in the UK.

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There was a significant increase in adverts for dispensing opticians (+26.4%), as well as for vehicle-related occupations such as driving instructors (+12.9%), vehicle body builders and repairers (+12.9%), and vehicle valets and cleaners (+9.2%).

A Sky News analysis of REC and industry data found the areas that worker shortages are among the most acute include HGV drivers, with over 100,000 vacancies, nurses (79,123), programmers and software development professionals (68,929), care workers and home carers (49,751) and primary and nursery education teaching professionals (30,574).

Speaking to HR magazine, REC chief executive Neil Carberry said: “There are many factors that have combined to cause this crisis. Some of it is short term, with lots of businesses hiring at once now that the economy has reopened, causing a bottleneck.

“But there had been staff shortages in sectors like driving, IT and healthcare for many years. A combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has caused those to get worse and created new shortages in other sectors.

“Many workers left the UK during the pandemic and can’t or don’t want to return. We are also dealing with an ageing workforce and the retirement of the ‘baby boomers’, with fewer younger workers to fill the gaps.”

He added the main challenge that people coming off furlough who are looking for a new role may face is that available roles may be in different sectors to where they had worked before.

“Recruiters are ideally placed to advise candidates on these transitions. That difference will also limit the extent to which the end of furlough will bring an immediate relief to labour shortages – though it will help to ease the situation a little over the longer term.”

While starting salaries for permanent staff are increasing at a record rate, Carberry stressed that employers and their HR teams should avoid focusing only on wages.

“They should also think about things like their workplace’s facilities, parental leave and flexible working policies, pensions or holiday entitlement. Companies often underestimate the importance of these kind of benefits, which are very important to workers. Good employment relations – really listening to staff – matters more than ever and isn’t only a function of HR teams.”

A separate new study from XpertHR, which surveyed respondents from 134 organisations employing a combined workforce of 249,613 people in May and June 2021, found that 61% of organisations are expecting to recruit more permanent employees in 2021 than in 2020.

However, 55% said they are facing issues with a poor quality of applicants for roles while 50% have experienced skills shortages.

XpertHR benchmarking editor Michael Carty told HR magazine: “Candidate hesitancy to move jobs during the pandemic is a key cause of skills shortages. For many workers, job security outweighs the desire to change jobs – even unsatisfactory ones.

“For example, many respondents to our recent survey note that candidates are more risk-averse and therefore less likely to move. Some also mention the impact of the widespread use of homeworking as a factor in skills shortages. This is because remote working has made the recruitment landscape more competitive in some areas, with candidates no longer limited to job roles near where they’re located.”

On the job areas facing the biggest worker shortages, Carty added: “Skills shortages and recruitment difficulties are particularly acute for these critical roles. This is at least in part down to a lack of availability of candidates with the requisite skills and/or experience.

“With the war for talent for such workers likely to intensify still further, employers are well advised to use any resources at their disposal to try to attract the best candidates, whether it be looking to boost pay and conditions, or broadening the reach of their candidate attraction methods.”