Skills shortages mean businesses need contractors

Friday 21 June 2013

Contractors and freelance workers are keenly aware of the skill shortages affecting many UK industries. But a new survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) demonstrates just how acute the problem is.

The sixth annual Education and Skills Survey shows that businesses are seriously concerned about their growth potential in the future if these skills gaps are not filled. Nearly half of UK businesses are worried about the potential for finding workers with the right skills in the future - and manufacturing, construction and engineering were among the sectors demonstrating the most acute problems. It is perhaps unsurprising that these are the industries in which contracting is flourishing, as experts with specialist skills remain vital to the smooth running of operations around the country.

Indeed, it is technical disciplines that are noticing the most serious issues with recruitment. Four out of ten businesses said that they were struggling to acquire workers with the necessary skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), while a similar proportion were expecting these problems to continue over the course of the next three years.

There is clearly a long-term issue with finding technical expertise within key sectors of the economy - and among the candidates who can be found, four out of ten employers say they have noticed a real lack of workplace experience. Another 45 per cent said they found that workers just starting out in their sector did not arrive “rounded, grounded and ready for work”.

As many as a quarter of businesses that require STEM skills are struggling to attract graduates with qualifications in these fields, but the problem is even more acute for science, technology and engineering companies looking to recruit technicians. Three out of ten employers have difficulty with finding technical skills, prompting the CBI to call for a renewed focus on encouraging these competencies at every stage of the education process.

Contractors who can boast strong language skills are also likely to play an invaluable part in fulfilling the international growth plans harboured by many of the UK’s companies. Whether working directly on overseas projects or performing functions that require liaison with companies and departments elsewhere, the survey found that 70 per cent of businesses valued foreign languages among their workers.

A sizeable 38 per cent of firms said that languages were vital for maintaining relationships with suppliers and clients. French and German were the most popular languages businesses sought, with 49 and 45 per cent respectively, but the growing influence of China is evident - 28 per cent placed a premium on Mandarin skills, while another 16 per cent of businesses valued candidates who spoke Cantonese.

“We’re facing a critical lack of skills in some key industries, just as the economy starts to pick up” said CBI director General John Cridland. “Long-term, sustainable growth will come in part from rebalancing towards high-value products and services, which demand much better technical skills.

“We need to boost our skills base urgently before the UK loses more ground. It’s time to stop looking on enviously at Germany and build a system that works.”

By Victoria McDonnell

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