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Employers struggling to find skilled workers

Organisations are looking to develop talent internally to mitigate Brexit-fuelled skills shortages

More than two-thirds (68%) of UK employers have struggled to find skilled workers this year, with Brexit uncertainty making talent scarcer, according to The Open University.

Its annual report on the skills landscape of the UK, The Open University Business Barometer 2019, found that organisations spent £4.4 billion on temporary staff, recruitment fees and increased salaries over the past 12 months because of difficulties finding employees with the right qualifications and experience.

Nearly half (48%) hired temporary staff to plug gaps, while 44% spent more than intended on recruitment fees. Others have increased salaries to make roles more attractive (38%), and nearly a third (31%) were forced to hire at a lower level than intended. The research found that there had been a 33% rise in spending on recruitment fees in total.

While one in five (21%) employers think that Brexit will open up new growth opportunities for their organisation, three in five (59%) senior business leaders feel that the skills shortage will worsen after the UK officially leaves the European Union.

Another important factor besides Brexit is that the UK employment rate stands at the highest level since 1971, while unemployment is at its lowest since 1974, the research noted.

Three in five (63%) employers reported that their organisation is currently facing a skills shortage (up from 62% in 2018). This scarcity of skills means that recruitment is taking one month and 27 days longer than anticipated, forcing many to seek external help, the research found.

While spending on recruiters is on the rise, there is also a greater focus on re-training existing staff. More than half (53%) of organisations increased their training and development budgets in the past year, by an average of 10%. Three in five (61%) think that they will have to focus on developing talent from within their organisation if they want to guarantee access to the right skills.

David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, said that he welcomed the news that employers are looking to develop talent internally: “It’s encouraging that employers are looking to invest in the talent of their existing workforce, with businesses increasingly turning to strategies that will serve their skills requirements for the years to come."

It is vital that employers look towards long-term training and development strategies such as apprenticeships, he added: “While many are starting to focus more on building up skills from within rather than buying them in, it is essential that training ultimately delivers results, while fitting around employees’ existing commitments.

“Current uncertainties may see businesses understandably focusing on the short term, but initiatives like work-based training are essential for those looking to remain agile and competitive in a rapidly-changing business environment. Training, such as apprenticeships, provides a long-term solution to UK organisations looking to adapt to challenges on the horizon such as Brexit, digitisation and new technologies.”