While the UK has seen its number of available workforce vacancies grow by almost half in two years, employers are experiencing great difficulty recruiting skilled personnel. Not only are skills shortages apparent, but also skills gaps are occurring. At the same time, many employees are overqualified for their current positions. Because skills are a key driver of both productivity and competitive advantage, it is concerning that employees in other developed countries are outperforming those in the UK on the measure of skill.
There have never been a greater number of highly-educated individuals in the UK. This would suggest that a skills surplus should be apparent, rather than a shortage; yet this is not the case. The question, then, is whether the required skills really do not exist, or whether current circumstances make it difficult to recognise and efficiently use existing skills.
Our briefing suggests that both of these factors are involved. On the one hand, the idea that university is the superior further education track ignores the fact that certain skills are best acquired through apprenticeships. On the other hand, practical barriers, such as inconvenient working hours, mean many employees cannot progress to the jobs that suit their skills best. Skills exist, but they are not being used in the most efficient way.
We conclude that the government should focus on its current population to meet its workforce needs, and refrain from looking abroad. Importing workers adds more people to an already-overpopulated country, and results in part of the current population remaining unemployed or underemployed.
For example, the further empowerment of women would create a bigger pool of skilled workers; older workers could be helped to stay in employment; collaboration between businesses and education would create a better balance between skill supply and demand; and the promotion of apprenticeships as a valuable alternative to university qualifications would allow for the development of a wider variety of skills.