What is the solution to the skills crisis?

Lucie Mitchell investigates how employers can best address the skills shortage across so many sectors and how they can attract back those who have left the labour market during Covid.

Recruitment Services


Both Brexit and the pandemic have exacerbated the ongoing skills shortage in the UK, with many sectors continuing to struggle to fill roles and plug gaps, including care, hospitality, logistics, construction and transport.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 predicts that 50% of all employees will need to reskill by 2025; while research in 2019 by McKinsey revealed that, by 2030, two thirds of the UK workforce may lack the basic digital skills needed by employers, and around 10 million could lack key skills in leadership, communication and decision making.

Meanwhile, according to recent analysis by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, 65% of recruiters say that the skills shortage is a major concern for them and is the main factor affecting their ability to place suitable candidates.

Yet what is the solution? How can employers tackle the skills challenge head on and make real strides to close the gap?

“The most effective short-term solution to overcoming the skills shortage is making open roles more attractive to employees – and flexible working is one easy way of doing this,” remarks Nabila Salem, president at Revolent Group.

“While it’s been great to see so many employers embrace flexible working arrangements, many are reverting back to five days in the office – which will work against them because the world has changed. This further marginalises ‘untapped talent pools’, including working parents, people with disabilities and older workers who may have other responsibilities at home that require more flexibility.”

John McDonough, MD at Recro Consulting, believes that it falls to UK plc to take action if we are to stand a chance of overcoming the skills crisis.

“We have to get the employability, skills and education sectors functioning much better. Currently they don’t and most people working in them are aware of this. If this falls to government ministers, which in theory it does, they don’t have the capability or expertise. Literally no one has got this in the UK, so UK plc needs to step up and into what is a pretty uncomfortable mire.”

Getting people back to work

One critical element of tackling the crisis, adds McDonough, is accessing and motivating those who have left the labour market.

“For those who stepped out during the pandemic – an estimated 900,000 – what will tempt them back in?” he asks. “Understanding their intrinsic motivators will be a key part. Where does the candidate go to understand that? What do employers do to understand that internally and then be able to communicate it? That’s why they need to do their research in all of these areas.”

Employers in sectors such as retail and hospitality are responding to the skills shortage by offering employees higher pay and more benefits. But is this the best solution?

“Many companies are beginning to throw money at the problem via wage increases or sign-on bonuses,” remarks Steven Kirkpatrick, CEO of Gojob UK & Ireland. “Some are taking it to extremes – with Amazon and many other companies offering performance-related signed bonuses of £1k, £3k and even £5k to new starters. Yet whilst this supports those businesses, it leaves many others at a loss.”

The care sector has been particularly hard hit by skills shortages, with care organisations facing severe recruitment and retention challenges.

“The shortage of care professionals has had a profound impact on the care sector,” says Dr Charles Armitage, co-founder and CEO of Florence, an online recruitment platform for care workers.

“The current crisis is the result of acute and chronic pressures on the workforce. The acute factors include mandatory vaccinations in care, wage inflation in competing sectors and workforce burnout post Covid-19. Most of these factors should self-resolve over the coming year as we emerge from the pandemic. The chronic factors include low pay, poor career development opportunities, lack of recognition of staff and current immigration policy. These are deeply entrenched problems and will be harder to solve.”

Solutions to the ongoing skills shortage

Armitage suggests a number of solutions to these issues, such as a defined minimum wage for social care, more funding for career development, clear career pathways, improved remuneration packages and an immigration route for care workers post Brexit.

In response to the crisis in the care sector, the government recently launched a national recruitment campaign, which Armitage admits is a good first step.

“I applaud strong central messaging that communicates the benefits of a career. These campaigns are also good for improving recognition of those who currently work in the sector. It would be great to see these campaigns continue for a longer period of time. If we are to build a strong, central brand for social care then this could be one way of achieving it.”

Salem believes lifelong learning is a crucial part of the long-term solution to tackling skills shortages across all sectors. “I see cross-training and lifelong reskilling initiatives as key to filling the UK skills gap,” she comments. “And if businesses want to take advantage of the ‘untapped talent pool’, they really need to challenge outdated stereotypes of older workers not being as ‘digitally savvy’.

We must remember that technology is evolving faster than humans. This means that any employee, no matter what their age, will require continuous lifelong learning support to keep their skills up to date.”

McDonough agrees that training is key. “As well as reasonable adjustments employers can make, if older workers, long-term unemployed, NEETs [not in education, employment or training] and those with health conditions were sent on high-quality training by their work coach and then proactively introduced to employers, this would significantly help to plug skills gaps.”

Comments [1]

  • Nonns says:

    I think there are other issues at work as well.
    A relentless downward pressure on salaries. Firms do it even to their own detriment (because squeezing a candidate for an extra 2k means allows them to claim a quick victory even though it might cost more in recruitment or cost them quality (they are not measuring those things – they’re not looking at total cost benefit to the organisation)
    The claims that organisations do not want narrowly focussed thinkers also does not stack up. They reject candidates because they have not used a specific package (but may have used one just like it and could be trained to use it in a matter of hours) or have no sector experience when they have plenty of experience in a sector where many of the same skills are used and have proven adaptability. Hiring managers do not even see these candidates because they’ve outsourced the entire recruitment process to recruitment firms which employ Inexperienced, lowly paid recruitment staff with little to no idea about the jobs they are recruiting for and thus reject many suitable candidates. Internal recruitment is not the answer either as the internal recruiting departments also focus too much on ATS systems which are heavily reliant on contextless keyword matching with (e.g., change and change management are not seen as connected or the same thing).
    Gas lighting of candidates by recruiters.
    Ageism driving down salaries is the focus as opposed to realising that one might just find one expensive experienced person is worth more than 3 cheaper less experienced people and so on.
    The list goes on and on.

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