Strikes down but worker shortages remain, according to ONS

The number of businesses affected by industrial action was the lowest since June 2022

The number of firms with concerns for their business is at its lowest level since February 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics' latest 'Business insights and impact on the UK economy' report.

Published yesterday (5 October) the report found nearly two thirds (63%) of businesses had some form of concern for their business going into October 2023; down from 66% in September 2023.

This is the lowest percentage reported since the question was introduced in February 2022.

For some businesses strikes remain a concern, yet the proportion of businesses affected by industrial action in August 2023 was down to 5%, the lowest recorded since June 2022.

A year of strikes: what has changed?

Despite the downturn in industrial action Nathan Clements, chief people officer of SSP, said the proportion is not insignificant.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Anything close to 5% is a lot of organisations and a lot of disruption. That's direct impact.

“If it's indirect impact, there won't be many businesses that have not had problems getting workers into businesses when the trains are striking. There’s no end in sight so it’s good to see it reducing.”

In late September 2023, one in 10 (10%) business said they were experiencing worker shortages, leading to more than half (54%) reporting they were unable to meet demands as a result.

Considering the results CIPD labour market economist James Cockett told HR magazine: “Worker shortages remain across the economy, and are persistent in hospitality, health and social care, and manufacturing.

“Low pay and poor working conditions continue to put off workers joining or remaining in some sectors.”

Clements was confident workers shortages would be here to stay, driven by two factors.

He said: “For me this sits in two buckets: high-volume, low-skill – 'We can't find enough people who are prepared to do this work for this pay (on this shift)' and low-volume, high-skill – 'We can't find enough of the people with the right experience in the things we're trying to do more of (our growth opportunities), regardless of pay'"

To combat shortages, Cockett urged employers to focus on strategic workforce planning.

He added: “We encourage employers to think strategically about workforce planning, targeting underrepresented groups in recruitment drives, and to invest in staff training and develop flexible working arrangements, including for those in frontline roles.”

Despite widespread attention given to the rise of AI in the workplace 84% of business said they were not currently using AI technologies and 81% said they were not planning to adopt them in the next three months.

The ONS’ full Business insights and impact on the UK economy: 5 October 2023 report can be found here.