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Skills shortages could halt economic recovery, warns major report

Skills shortages among adults in England could be holding back the country’s economic recovery, according to new research.

A report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, published today, finds a huge increase in vacancies where employers cannot find people with the right skills and qualifications to do the job.

The Employer Skills Survey interviewed more than 90,000 employers between March and July 2013, which reported a total of 559,600 job vacancies in England, up 45 per cent from 2009. However, so-called "skills shortage vacancies" nearly doubled over the same period, up from 63,100 to 124,800.

Skills shortages were most prevalent in trades such as plumbing, health care and social care.
But since 2011 there has been an increase in the proportion of skill-shortage vacancies resulting from a lack of communication skills, particularly oral communication, as well as a lack of literacy and numeracy.

The survey also found that the number of employers providing training for their staff is back to pre-recession levels, but the amount spent on training has decreased from £1,680 per employee in 2011 to £1,590 in 2013.

Only a minority of business are prepared to give education leavers their first job, but college leavers are reported to be more “work ready” than school leavers of the same age.

Douglas McCormick (pictured), a commissioner at UKCES, said:  “Whilst the rise in the number of vacancies is a good sign that the economy is recovering, there’s a real possibility that businesses might not be able to make the most of the upturn because they don’t have the right people.”

Michele Sutton, president of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the fact that employers were more positive about college leavers than school leavers in terms of their employability.

But she called the increase in skills shortage vacancies “a real concern”. “It is proof that more vocational education is needed, whether alone or alongside academic qualifications, in order to bridge the gap,” she said.

“Allowing more young people to take vocational qualifications from the age of 14 and providing them with high-quality advice about potential jobs, qualifications and courses, are essential.”

The report’s findings echo those of a recent report by global management consultants McKinsey and Co, which found a severe skills mismatch across eight EU countries, including the UK.

In the McKinsey survey, one third of employers surveyed said that a lack of skills was causing them major business problems, while 61 per cent said they were not confident they could find enough applicants with the right skills to meet their needs.

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