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Navigating the professional skills crisis

28th Feb 2022
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As we settle into 2022, and with Covid-related restrictions abolished in the UK, HR teams continue to face unprecedented skills shortages. Official figures show that the number of open vacancies across the UK has now hit a record high of 1.3 million, and within the professional sectors specifically, the talent gap is arguably even more apparent.

According to the latest Recruitment Trends Snapshot report from The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), the availability of permanent white-collar jobs has spiked once again, with vacancies up 28% in January when compared to the same time last year. The data, provided by the global leader in software for the staffing industry, Bullhorn, reveals that demand for contractors is also up year-on-year, increasing 38%. Month-on-month figures also showed a spike in jobs, with permanent and contract vacancies increasing by a massive 104% and 78% between December and January, which can be attributed to a bounce back following a seasonal lull.

APSCo’s data also highlights a significant increase in professional placements, with the number of candidates accepting new permanent roles rising by 84% between January 2021 and January 2022. Contract placements were up 12% during the same period. With the ONS reporting a continued decline in unemployment levels, this jump in placements alongside a spike in vacancies will put increasing pressures on the UK’s recruitment market and in-house talent acquisition professionals alike.

What’s more, this all comes at a time when internal talent management teams are themselves struggling to recruit and retain the personnel they need to operate optimally, with high vacancy numbers placing pressures on already overstretched HR teams – many of which faced cutbacks during the pandemic.

The reasons behind this talent drought are many and varied. However, we know that an exodus of European talent post-Brexit, and the fact that many people decided to retrain and switch sectors – or leave the workforce all together – when job opportunities were thin on the ground during the pandemic, both contributed to the current climate. 

What we also know is that this situation is not only proving a headache for talent management professionals, but also threatens to put the brakes on Britain’s economic recovery post-pandemic. Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, recently warned that, “With high economic inactivity indicating that many people have left the jobs market altogether, chronic staff shortages are likely to weigh on the UK economy for a sustained period."

With this in mind, action must be taken to ensure that businesses – and the wider economy – retain access to the skills they need to thrive. The hiring market in the UK is showing no signs of slowing. While this is promising for jobseekers, skills shortages remain rife across the country which will only be exacerbated if vacancy numbers continue on the same growth trajectory without a sustainable solution to the dearth of talent.

While the release of the government’s Levelling Up Whitepaper does show a promising commitment to increasing the professional skills of the UK market, there’s still more that can be done, including changes to the Apprenticeship Levy to make it more flexible so that the likes of agency workers can carry training over in their roles.

In its Access to Skills and Talent Public Policy plan, APSCo highlighted its government asks in order to create a labour market that is dynamic and flexible to address the skills shortages that are being felt across the UK. This includes the need to reform the Apprenticeship Levy to ensure independent professionals and other members of the self-employed workforce can also access skills training. Flexible, pragmatic, training initiatives must be designed by government to maximise access across the workforce from school leavers to mid-life “lane changers” if it is to equip the UK labour market with the skills, experience, and expertise in demand by employers and business now and in decades to come.

Until then, though, talent management professionals must dig deep and think creatively to ensure that they continue to successfully engage existing and potential employees. In doing this, they can effectively navigate the ongoing talent crisis to best ensure that their organisations are not adversely affected by potentially damaging talent gaps. 

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