Skills Shortages Update

Dr Dick Evans continues his analysis of the Skills Shortages facing the UK, and draws some depressing conclusions. The time is overdue for real Government action on the subject.

There have been a number of interesting developments and pronouncements on skills shortages recently, which further highlight this country’s inability in planning its overall labour force requirements. It is only recently that the press has picked up shortages in science, engineering, mathematics and statistics even though these key strategic areas have been experiencing difficulties for a number of years.

According to evidence from the CBI and its regional offices shortages of skilled labour are now hampering recruitment across all employment sectors including law, hospitality and accountancy. This comes at a time when there is apparently, according to the government, full employment and a buoyant economy. The current drive to dramatically increase recruitment in public sector jobs particularly in the teaching and health areas is creating further problems for the private sector. Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find and recruit qualified staff across all skill areas. This increased competition is driving up salaries and requiring employers to look overseas for staff.


The regional offices of the CBI have reported continuing skills shortages in the usual areas such as IT, computing, software development, food technologies, the sciences e.g. chemistry, electronics and other engineering specialisms. In addition companies report continuing concerns about the lack of basic skills from the younger jobseekers particularly with numerical and communication capabilities and competences. Equally concerning was that other areas were now experiencing acute shortages at middle and senior management levels in the legal, property advise and accountancy professions and the reports further indicate concerns in many other professions at middle and senior managerial positions. One chemical company spokesperson was quoted as saying that “chemists were as rare as hens’ teeth”. In addition the reports from the regions voiced concerns about the decreasing number of science and mathematics courses at university level and the consequent difficulties in recruiting specialists in such areas as environmental sciences/ engineering e.g. contaminated land specialists and hydrogeologists – key areas with the growing concerns about global warming and other critical environmental issues.


Again the immediate reaction was to seek qualified people from overseas in spite of the growing concerns about the associated ethical issues arising from this approach. For example the BMA has recently expressed great concern about overseas recruitment stating that it was morally indefensible and pointing out that this country saved billions of pounds in training medical experts whilst the poorer countries spent their limited funds on training only to see the graduates poached by Britain. This unsavoury practice brings this country into disrepute and completely undermines its current leadership of the G8 nations and its supposed priority in reducing poverty and disease in such places as Africa. Twenty five percent of doctors who qualified in Ghana now work in this country at a time when Ghana has to confront a massive AIDS epidemic. Overseas recruitment is a classic example of short termism coupled with a scant disregard for the consequences of this highly questionable practice.


Pharmaceutical companies are also now voicing major concerns about the current problems in recruiting home grown graduates and post graduates in a number of specialist subjects such as statistics, toxicology and microbiology. They believe that the problems will only get worse bearing in mind the developing situation in HE science provision and this could result in many companies relocating abroad.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) have also reported concern from two-thirds of companies about the lack of numerical skills amongst job applicants as well as their requirements for specialist skills. The CIPD report goes on to state that in spite of an increased number of graduates being produced companies cannot recruit people at his level in the subjects they require.

It seems as if the increased opportunities and choice at HE level is providing softer options for students who avoid such subjects as science, mathematics and statistics, which they perceive as being harder. The concept of choice comes at a cost to the individual and the economy and increasing undergraduate populations will make these mismatches worse.

Therefore the overall picture on skills at all levels is bleak in spite of the government proclaiming a successful and growing economy. The government continues to fail to address the fundament problems with the education and training system preferring instead to adopt short term, knee jerk solutions. The government’s spin and hype does not correspond with the realities which employers express so clearly.

The long-term solutions will only be realised by a radical set of policies, strategies and tactics that fully recognise the fundamental problems that beset education and training in this country.

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