Failure to attract workers puts key sectors at risk

Key sectors, including food production, construction, and health and social care, are under threat of collapse as British workers reject essential jobs.

Around 3.1 million vacancies in key sectors are expected to open up in the UK over the next five years – representing half of all expected job openings – but, on average, only a quarter (25%) of working age people would consider taking them up, according to research by skills development organisation The City & Guilds Group.

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Just a quarter of people surveyed said they would consider work in social care (25%) or healthcare (26%), and only a fifth (22%) said they would work in food production, agriculture or animal care.

A disproportionate gender representation also impacts some sectors. Just 9% of women, for example, would consider a job in construction, fewer than one in three of the already low 25% of men who would work there.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds, told HR magazine: “When it comes to hiring in these industries, the employers are still really struggling – and ultimately, if these roles aren’t filled, we will see some of our critical industries unable to operate effectively."

Yesterday (2 February) the government released its ‘Levelling Up’ white paper outlining a plan for economic recovery, including the provision of good job opportunities and training to historically neglected areas outside of London and the South East.

Donnelly added: “It’s clear that if the government is to support its levelling up rhetoric, it needs to provide additional funding to level up access to education – for all ages – and improve the desirability of the jobs essential to the running of our society.”

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing said many of the people available to fill vacant roles just don’t currently have the requisite skills.

Because automation and lower-cost immigrant labour are not an option for many of the roles, he suggested employers will have to consider other options.

Speaking to HR magazine he said: “UK employers in these hard-pressed sectors may just have to pay workers more in the short term.”

Where higher pay is not an option, he added: "A middle ground may be to make the overall remuneration offering more attractive.

“Employee benefits not traditionally associated with these sectors, such as access to private healthcare and group income protection policies, are lower cost options worthy of consideration.”

Employees, he said, "are likely to welcome such offerings – and in physical roles like construction, logistics and agriculture, perks like private healthcare may well speed the return of ill or injured employees to the workplace".

Similarly, Donnelly added: “At an employer level, the importance of good salaries shouldn’t be overlooked.

“However, employers also need to look at the benefits beyond salary, and work with employees to understand their individual drivers to help shape benefits programmes and flexible working practices, which will in turn recruitment and retention rates.”