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UK bosses express record frustration at skills squeeze

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Adrian Holliday Press Releases

New UK jobs numbers for the last quarter of 2021 show that 83% of construction and hospitality sectors struggled to fill roles.

The Q4 2021 period is the run-up to Christmas, and the latest British Chambers of Commerce figures look like depressing reading for many bosses – four out of five firms struggled to find the right staff mix.

Antony Woodcock is the co-founder and CEO of GIG, which matches shift workers across hospitality and retail sectors with an app. Woodcock told Capital.com that finding skilled workers with experience is extremely tough.

“We are still getting people through the door. But a lot of people have a lot less experience than they did 12 or 24 months ago,” Woodcock said. 

Unsung hero shortfall

Finding experienced staff for vital roles like hotel cleaning is tricky.

“It is not a particularly desirable or glamorous role for the younger generation,” Woodcock said, acknowledging that finding trusted people to do the work is difficult.

Raising wages will play a significant role in improving the job climate. 

“April’s minimum wage is going up to £9.50," Woodcock said. “I would suggest that is out of date already. At the moment, we are paying the majority of our staff in hospitality £10-£10.50 an hour at entry level”. 

Woodcock noted GIG has seen two rate rises with their hospitality and logistics clients since August of last year. Base level hospitality wages in a year’s time could be as high as £12 an hour, Woodcock predicted.

“Workers have more power than they have ever had before. There are more jobs than there are people,” the GIG CEO said.

Digital talent risks

Julaine Speight runs Manchester-based digital marketing agency First Internet and employs 16. Working from home is now a Covid-19-induced norm for digital creatives globally. 

This means less face-to-face collaboration, which Speight values. Speight has seen London marketing agencies poach creative staff “up north”, offering a better local rate but a cheaper one than in the UK capital.

“Which is very difficult for us because we do not charge as much as other agencies,” said Speight. Talented website developers and search engine optimisation (SEO) specialists are now hard to find. 

Web developers are particularly in demand since businesses that were not digital pre-pandemic are definitely more digital-friendly now.  

Brexit dilemma

Mandy Watson is the managing director of Ambitions Personnel, which supplies food production and warehouse staff across the east of England. She has more than 3,000 staff a week on her books.

Watson is clear what the human resources problem is for her clients – fewer staff because of Brexit.

“Typically, we would rely on an Eastern European workforce. Although everyone says Covid has caused problems, if I am brutally honest, I think it is a Brexit issue,” Watson said.

“(The Eastern European workforce) cannot come now. This particular area (East Midlands) is a landing ground, so people would typically come here first and settle with a family,” Watson said. 

Watson does not see the situation changing, which means companies are paying more. 

“Unless the government fundamentally changes the rules,” Watson said. “As you are aware, they let some extra drivers in and people in the poultry industry at the end of the year to get Christmas through”.

All factories and food-type businesses will see the most pressure in the next 12 months as they are generally not seasonal, Watson said.  

Graduate to the next level 

Dylan Buckley, co-founder of jobs portal DirectlyApply, told Capital.com that he recognises both the pressures on employers as well as the employees. Many job hunters, he said, are now paralysed by choice.

“Because there are more choices and more options, people are able to be pickier about who they work for. The short story is that if you are trying to hire on the same terms (as) two years ago you are probably going to struggle today,” Buckley said. 

According to Buckley, employers can help themselves by doing the following:

  • Pay the living wage – at least.

  • Offer more part-time positions, particularly in retail and hospitality, so childcare can be better managed.

  • Pay attention to the graduate market. The class of 2020-2021 was smaller due to the pandemic, so be competitive for talent.

Tax law impact

Tania Bowers, global public policy director at The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), told Capital.com that the rollout of tax-avoidance law IR35 into the private sector has also affected the UK skills squeeze.

“We have yet to see a viable and attractive entry route into the UK for highly skilled international contractors, which is impacting multiple sectors including engineering, healthcare, construction and IT and tech”.

According to Bowers, the UK needs “a dynamic, flexible and international workforce, but the current legislative landscape does not support this to the degree that is required”.

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Published: 13th January 2022