How your small business can overcome the skills shortage in the UK

Published on 28/11/2019 by Sonia Navarrete

There is a skills shortage in the UK, and it’s costing businesses money. In this article, we look at the scale of the problem and what’s being done to tackle it. We also examine the effect on small businesses and how software can help.

skills shortage uk

Skills shortage harms UK’s global competitiveness

The lack of skilled workers across UK industry is a potential time bomb. Businesses warn that the skills shortage is harming the UK’s global competitiveness, and the Industrial Strategy Council (ISC) recently released a report claiming that 20 percent of UK workers will be significantly under skilled for their job by 2030.

The reasons behind the shortage a numerous and complex. Educational failings are partly to blame – less than half the adult population has primary-school-level numeracy skills, says the ISC – and a similar proportion lack the digital skills to succeed at work today. As technology becomes increasingly important in the workplace, this skills mismatch will only get worse.

A nation in desperate need of digital skills 

There is a lack of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

Professions in demand include all jobs in biological sciences and biochemistry, civil, mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering, IT, programming and software development, web design, cybersecurity and medicine.

Business foots the bill

The issue has become a problem for CIOs. In Gartner’s Emerging Risk Report from late 2018, 63% of senior executives said that talent shortage was a key concern for their organisation. This outranked issues like GDPR, cybersecurity disclosure, and accelerating privacy regulation.

In the UK alone, addressing this digital deficit costs businesses £63 billion a year, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Its report from June 2019 says that more than two-thirds of UK companies have unfilled digital vacancies, less than one-third are confident that they will be able to access the digital skills they need in the next 3–5 years, and 69% of smaller businesses’ digital needs will peak within the next two years.

Collaboration required to bridge skills gap

There are broadly three solutions to the skills shortage, with responsibility falling across government, the education sector, employers, and individuals.

  1. Improve education and training for young people
  2. Make on-the-job training more accessible and attractive for employers
  3. Make it easier for employers to hire skilled workers

Schemes are currently in place, for example, to improve the level of vocational training. 

Since 2010, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) have helped 14–19-year-old gain the skills and knowledge they need to help the UK bridge its skills gap. Their focus is on STEM subjects like engineering, manufacturing, computer science, health sciences, digital technologies and cybersecurity. 

In 2018, 2,000 young people left UTCs to either go to university or enter the workforce.

Unlike traditional schools, UTCs have strong links to local universities and employers, meaning that their curricula are designed to meet the region’s needs.

In addition, students from UTCs, as well as those from schools, colleges and universities, can take advantage of apprenticeships, where they gain valuable work experience alongside study related to their role, as well as a wage.

Employers, especially small businesses, can get financial support for training apprentices – up to 100% of training costs in some cases. This makes it an attractive option for firms looking to fill vacancies. They don’t have to be teenagers, either – apprenticeships are available to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Girls key to growing STEM workforce

The UK needs killed STEM employees, but women only represent a small proportion of the current STEM workforce – 13% according to STEM Graduates. Furthermore, Girls Into STEM reports that 39% of girls enjoy engineering at school, but research by the Institute of Engineering & Technology  found that 93% of parents would not support their daughter in pursuing a career in the sector.

There are numerous initiatives designed to encourage girls into STEM careers, and this begins in primary school. Organisations like Stemettes and the WISE Campaign hold events where girls can develop skills or explore STEM careers. Small businesses can get involved by providing space, hosting events, offering mentoring or donating to campaigns.

Software can help you recruit the talent you need

The Open University Business Barometer reports that of the £6.3 billion the skills shortage costs business each year, £2.72 billion of that comes from temporary staffing and recruitment costs. An obvious solution to this problem is to streamline the recruitment processes, and there is a range of recruitment software to help.

Recruitment software lets you collect information about job applicants, then filter, grade and match applicants to your vacancies. At its most basic level, the software lets you automate the tedious tasks to save your small business time and money. Depending on what software you choose, there are features that help you improve communication with applicants, boosting your reputation as a considerate and engaged employer.

Our website contains a large number of recruitment software products – all rated and reviewed by small business owners and managers like you. You’ll also find links to download the software for trial periods – or for free in many cases.