The Increasing UK Skills Shortage – Causes and Solutions

The Increasing UK Skills Shortage – Causes and Solutions

You’ve just had that expert who is so very important to your business hand their notice in

Or maybe…

You’ve just won that big contract that can take the company to the next level.

Either way you have the same dilemma; you need to hire an expert or some experts to do the job. Otherwise it could cause you some real problems.

So what do you do? You call your favourite recruitment agency (hopefully it’s Revorec, but we don’t hold any grudges) and you ask them to find you such and such. The agency will be all too keen to help, but after a few days you haven’t had any CV’s through. You call them or they call you concerning an update and it’s all a little bit tougher than flicking through their books to get you someone who ticks the boxes. Then it goes a bit quiet, they keep in touch, but no results. Sound familiar?

There is a well documented skills shortage in the UK. You’ve probably heard, but just in case here’s two links to demonstrate my point:

So, what are your options to fix the problem then? Basically, you have four options as follows:

Option 1: Try a different Recruiter

Option 2: Up the money you are offering

Option 3: Throw out some of the skills required on your applicant wish list thus opening the job up

Option 4: Bury your head in the sand and hope something will turn up

Without getting into Brexit politics (not really the point here), a particular question does need to be considered before going any further: If we have a chronic skills shortage now, what happens when we leave the EU?

Regarding the four options above first though:

Option 1: Yes, probably try a different Recruiter. After all you need someone, and another recruiter might have people. However, if you’re having to go through 5 plus recruitment agencies and it’s still not solving anything then you’ll need to try something else.

Option 2: Upping the money can draw some people out. Maybe your original idea of what the salary should be is a little low. A good sign is that if your last employee in that role had left you for more money, clearly you’re paying less than the competition. However, if you end up shelling out and all you are getting is mercenaries who will jump ship as soon as someone else offers them more again, you’ll end up back to square one. Get a good recruiter who wants to build a long term relationship with you who deals in your market and ask them about what salary you should be paying. If you’re paying enough then you’ll need to consider other options.

Option 3: Throwing out some of the skills requirements on your wish list. Don’t get me wrong, we all want value for money, but sometimes we need a reality check. If your idea is that you want an all singing all dancing guru and your company is the best thing since sliced bread because you offer flexitime and beanbags as well as share options, it’s easy to get carried away. But in the real world if that candidate doesn’t exist, is happy where they are or simply won’t leave for love nor money, you could come unstuck. Also you’ll have a budget. In the nicest way, unless you are Google, Amazon, Microsoft or Exxon Mobil you’ll have certain restrictions on what you can spend. Therefore, have a very honest conversation with yourself and the team involved and get real about the skills actually needed.

Option 4: Bury your head in the sand…and wait. This sounds like a joke option right? It’s sadly not if you go by what many companies inadvertently find themselves in. Nobody actively wants to bury their head in the sand unless they’re a complete fool. Yet if nobody else in your existing outfit can do the job needed, you can’t pay anymore salary/hourly rate, you can’t open the skills up anymore and your contract, department or company is on the line because of it, what else do you do? Hope and Pray? If you are in or have been in this spot this cannot happen again. It’s really not a great situation to be in.

Going back to the point a little earlier regarding Brexit and, not wanting to go into the political argument, consider if there is a well documented and increasingly challenging skills shortage now – how bad will it be after Brexit itself?

The truth: nobody really knows. If you ask remain people – it’s going to cause havoc and chaos and if you ask leave people – it’ll all be fine and we’ll be better off for it.

But the other easily overlooked elephant in the room question is how did we get into this skills shortage situation in the first place?

Now this is a matter of opinion as it could be argued in favour of other reasons, but (having only left university 10 years or so back myself), I am part of a generation that has received a very different type of education to the previous generation. And I believe our education from both a schooling and social side has played a part in this skills shortage as well as economic factors.

I’ll start with the economic factors and a quick link to support my points:

This article basically charts over the last couple of decades the changes in living costs versus wages. Yes both have increased, but not equally. Financially you’ll get a lot less for your money now then you would in say 1999. However, in 1999 not everybody had mobile phones, now everybody has them and they cost £40 – £50 per month typically. Not everybody had executive cars – then it was Ford Escorts and Mondeo’s and now it’s Audi’s and BMW’s. The list goes on; tablets, Netflix, holidays to Bali. They all add up. What is also more notable is the average level of UK debt. Cue support article:

So debt has increased too has it? What’s also more interesting is that the debt is higher on average the younger the adult. Many early 30’s something have 0 to very low savings and as for retirement funds, yeah right. This is seen as unwise to my parents and even more so to my grandparents generations.

Is this younger adult’s costs of living outstripping their ability to save or just ignorance of their own future needs? In my opinion there is an element of both and this for me is the part that is motivated by the two education forms we are exposed to growing up; schooling education and social education.

Let me start with the schooling education initially or academia if you prefer. I include in this not just school itself, but further and higher education too. Firstly schooling and the general curriculum has moved on since our grandparents generation. Even since when I went to school and experienced 1950’s buildings in the late 90’s and early noughties half derelict with asbestos laden walls and rusting pipes, (I left in 2002 and yes it was a run down state school and far from a private school) we now have a wave of freshly built, modernised and well equipped academies popping up to dominate our senior school landscape. Yet if you look at the curriculum subjects and what is being taught has it really changed all that much? Yes, the techniques and sophistication of Maths, Science, English etc has improved and updated in our schools, but I’m referring to the subjects and information being communicated in the first place.

Think algebra. I know many people of a wide variety of ages and from rich and poor backgrounds and, unless they are involved in education in some way, I am yet to meet anyone who uses this subject at all since the day they left school. Shakespeare? Interesting to some, the definition of boredom to others, but again is this information of practical use in the real world?

The point here is that we are taught many things in school that take up a sizeable amount of our education that bare no relevance or use to us once our education is complete. So why teach them?

Why not teach real world finances such as saving, how mortgages work, budgeting? What about career progression routes, actual earning potential and the pro’s and con’s of some career paths? Why are they not dedicated subjects that form part of our curriculum?

Like many I was of the understanding that going to University is the only way I could get a good job. With the price of living going up, my parents constantly moaning about how they wished they’d done better in their own educations and seeing all my friends with the same idea, it made perfect sense to go to university.

How do you get there? Get good grades in school, then go to college or sixth form and get good A-Levels and dependent on how good they are, the better the choice of university and courses you have available to you.

I was fortunate enough to have been in the last year of university before the tuition fee’s took a dramatic rise and as such have been able to pay off my menial tuition fee’s; all £13,500 of them. That number is miniscule to some of the tuition fee’s being charged now. Cue another article example:

This article shows two interesting statistical graphs; the first is the comparison of UK University fee’s currently standing at around the £9000 per year mark against other countries and the second is the continued increase of applications per year despite the fee rises.

Without wanting to go into whether a University education is the right choice or not, it’s going a bit off track, why is it that despite the costs involved that people are still frantically applying and at an increased volume?

Having been at university not all that long ago myself and having worked with recent University graduates every year since then, I have seen a common theme. We are told from various sources “Without a university education you won’t have the money you need to live the lifestyle you want”. This isn’t just my opinion and I appreciate people may argue that this isn’t always the case, but it’s my observation of what basically every graduate I have met (From a range of universities, subjects, family backgrounds and nationalities) including myself have experienced.

To sum up this point regarding the academia part of education, it seems that the schooling system is specifically setup to encourage you to pursue a university education. If that is the case it’s working well. Conspiracy theorists may argue that perhaps the business element of education wants to encourage people to get £40,000 in debt so that they can claim compound interest over many years via the loans themselves or indirectly via the debt from credit cards, rental costs and undergraduates abundance for binge drinking in university towns up and down the country….pause for breath. Or maybe that’s just the cynics talking and they need to wind their neck in. Either way it’s starting people out in their working careers heavily in debt. Add to that the social education and we begin, in my opinion to answer a root problem with our UK skills shortage.

What do I mean by social education? In definition it is the impact of the people and media that influence us in our lives. Growing up, I don’t blame my parents for this as they wanted the best for me, they said do well in school and go to university. Then there is the playground politics element of who’s got the best trainers and latest fad. Your parents encouraging your education and playground politics hasn’t really changed much over the past 100 years probably, but it does set a root tone. Add to that social media which due to analytics, (the random adverts you see on your Facebook feed and email spam etc) which target very specific minorities of people with aimed media and you can start really pinpointing and influencing groups of the population.

So how does this play in to the increasing UK skills shortage?

The system in place, and that encompasses our schooling and social education combined with the economic realities of UK life, only goes to perpetuate people to choosing certain types of career paths. With more people attending university and planning on going to university this has meant that less people are doing apprenticeships and going through the more hands on skilled career routes. Unite that with baby boomers approaching and entering retirement and you create a skills void. This isn’t new information as this is pretty well publicized, but what is actually being done to fix the problem?

You may have noticed various government sponsored adverts online and on broadcast media regarding apprenticeships, but from an economic standpoint (this isn’t me being cynical) I ask the question what makes more money for the government; apprenticeships or people attending university? It’s very one sided toward the university route.

I would therefore argue that based on this information the government are making in my mind a paltry effort to fix the issue. Years ago we had technical schools, many eastern European countries still have them and not to state the obvious, but where do many of our skilled workers originate from?

Before jumping into the politics of Brexit as it would be veering off point let’s examine what three parties could fix the problem of a skills shortage?

1-The Government – On paper it’s their responsibility, but are they really doing enough?

2-The Workforce – If you’re entire upbringing and influence has been catered towards the university route so you can live the life you want why look at apprenticeships or hands on jobs that pay far less potential earnings?

3-The Employers – Do they have the money, time and resources to risk training someone who might not work out anyway?

The people between employers and employees are the Recruiters – us guys. And there is a big irony here; There’s actually a ton of people who want the jobs on offer by employers and I’m talking serious people, not time wasters. People who’d even take less money than they are on currently. People who on paper aren’t bad on skills either. So why can’t I get them jobs on all too many occasions?

I speak to many people and without doubt 2 or 3 every day are genuine, good people who’s CV is probably a 7/10 for the job they have applied for. Yet they don’t even get a chance to have a telephone interview, let alone a face to face. Many clients state they have to have a degree, but still offer the market rate and wonder why they cannot find staff for months on end costing them thousands in lost revenues.

The question I ask to clients; would you rather a 10/10 who is only in it for the money and therefore is a long term risk or someone who is a 7/10 and who with a bit of training will become a 10/10, but more importantly wants to work for you for the right reasons. Who stays longer and therefore who is the better investment? Think about it.

The real solution is that employers need to look at people who have the right motivations, but have transferable skills and then offer them the training and support to come up to speed. Do that and your company eventually develops a culture where employers want to help others just as the company helped them when they started. This, I believe is the most realistic and viable route and if more companies followed this path they’d have happier and more productive workforces, less staff turnover and wouldn’t have to be reliant on anyone employee who may suddenly hand in their notice.

Agree? (A homage to our LinkedIn influencers…)

Key Words: Skills Shortage, UK Skills Shortage, Engineering, IT, Technical skills, Training, Millennials, Baby Boomers, Workforce, Recruitment, Apprenticeships, Employers, Employees, Brexit, Graduates, Blog, Recruiter, Skills Shortage, Skills Shortage, Skills Shortage, Skills Shortage, Skills Shortage

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