Skills to pay the bills - combat the skills shortage

Paul Boughton

It's no secret that we are in the midst of an industry-wide skills shortage, despite unemployment falling to the lowest levels since 2008. The new challenge is finding employees who are skilled to meet the demands of technical jobs. Cat Whitford reports

Unemployment has fallen to the lowest level since 2008 according to recent figures released by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS). Falling to a seven year low of 5.3%, the report shows that there are now 31.2m people in work. Despite the short term growth, businesses continue to face long term challenges with regards to skills shortages.

While it's reassuring to see headline figures show a fall in unemployment, these statistics don’t reflect the overall story. Short-term results aside, dig a little deeper and you'll see that businesses continue to face long term challenges in three key areas: salary, success, and skills. A lack of adequate pay, poor career prospects and an ongoing skills shortage is hampering the UK's ability to compete on a global scale.

The UK Government has gone some way in tackling the problem of pay with the introduction of a National Living Wage, being introduced from April 2016. However, the skills shortage continues to hamper career prospects for many, with recent research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) showing that the UK economy is losing out £18bn due to 520,000 job vacancies that cannot be filled due to a lack of relevant skills.

Furthermore, according to a new labour market outlook report by the CIPD, businesses have typically responded by up-skilling existing staff, hiring more apprentices, recruiting from the international migrant pool and raising starting salaries.

Yet there is still more that employers can do to address the image problem that lies at the root of the skills shortage. My colleague Brian Booth, VP of the Water Treatment Innovation Platform at NCH Europe, recently presented at the Chemistry at Work Event in Dudley at the Black Country Museum. The event’s aim was to raise the profile of our industry, the chemical sciences, to over 360 young people.

The event highlighted that there is still a fundamental lack of awareness among young people of the sheer variety of engineering sectors and careers to pursue after they leave education.

If we are to truly eradicate the skills shortage and position the UK at the forefront of innovation on a global scale, we must address this image and awareness problem. An increase in extra-curricular activities and more events in and out of schools, delivered by teachers as well as employers, will go a long way in building a better job market for the future.

I would call on everyone working within the engineering and science sectors not to become complacent in light of the recent employment statistics. There’s a long way to go before we have the skills to pay the bills, joining the ranks with the next generation of engineers and we all have to work together to achieve this goal.

Cat Whitford is VP of HR and Corporate Affairs, NCH Europe.