The petrol crisis last autumn, restaurants’ reducing opening hours and delays to Christmas gift deliveries all highlight the UK’s serious shortage of skilled workers.
This was confirmed by the ONS revealing that in September, we hit a 20-year job vacancy high of 1.1 million. With unemployment figures estimated at 4.6%, we are seeing a clear skills gap: many of those out of work simply do not have the skills required to fill the vacancies generated by the economy.
A significant factor in our decision to acquire Prezzo in 2020 was the skill, expertise and dedication of its staff. Earlier this year, we increased wages in response to labour shortages, but there remains a dearth of skilled people in the hospitality sector, from waiting staff through to chefs and restaurant managers.
Hospitality and food services had 134,000 vacancies at the end of August, up 75.4% on the previous three months, and the highest vacancy rate of any sector, at 5.9 vacancies per 100 employees, according to the ONS. These shortages partly stem from the exodus of EU employees due to Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is vital that we give young people the confidence and direction to acquire skills and training
Putting this aside, to retain and attract either homegrown or overseas talent to hospitality, we need to provide the support, working environment and training for staff and managers to prosper.
The construction sector is similarly affected by labour shortages. Vacancies hit their highest level for two decades this summer and construction workers saw the highest rate of annual growth in pay of any sector, with a 14.3% uplift.
The combination of rising labour and material costs, as well as increased difficulty in finding staff, will have a major impact on the property sector.
The government’s pledge of £1.6bn to roll out new T-levels – the vocational equivalent to A-levels – and its commitment of £550m for adult skills in England are steps in the right direction. But to really fix this, we need a greater adoption of a culture of nurture, and that should start with the talent of tomorrow.
At the end of 2020, there were 797,000 young people not in education, employment or training, with 39,000 people being added in the past quarter, the biggest jump since the fallout from the global financial crisis.
In light of this statistic, last autumn we formed a partnership with the charity XLP, which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in nine London boroughs.
This goes far beyond financial support and involves us providing mentoring and other services, helping to guide young people so they are ready to tackle the adult world.
It is vital we give young people the awareness of the many different jobs that exist, the knowledge to understand what they might be interested in and the confidence and direction to acquire the skills and training to unlock these vacant roles.
Unfortunately, the UK is particularly poor at providing training opportunities when it comes to technical skills, lagging behind its competitors. Only one in 10 British adults aged 18 to 65 hold a level 4-5 technical qualification, compared with 20% of workers in Germany and 34% in Canada.
Addressing this will require commitment to develop an effective lifelong learning policy and a change in culture to ensure that technical and practical roles and courses are not seen as second class to clerical work and more traditional academic subjects.
The only way to tackle our skills shortages and job vacancies is to develop an all-encompassing, immersive culture of nurturing people, meaning providing opportunities for lifelong education, training and support in the workplace and wider society.
Not only will this make us a more prosperous and productive nation, but also a happier and more cohesive one.
Jonathan Goldstein is chief executive of Cain International