A mix of government support and sheer resilience from UK businesses has kept a loose lid on unemployment over the past 18 months. Although the number of people looking for work rose - 2.6 million in April 2021 compared with 1.4 million in March 2020 (ONS data, based on those claiming relevant benefits) - economists are generally surprised it wasn’t higher.
And now, rather than grow any further, the opposite is happening; employers are struggling to fill roles, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the gap is particularly severe in IT.
Jobs up, candidates down
A recent KMPG survey found that demand for workers rose at its fastest rate in May for more than 23 years, driven largely by the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and the reopening of various sectors. Causing difficulty is the fact that the number of staff available to fill these vacancies has gone the other way, declining at the fastest rate since 2017.
The jobs market, according to KPMG partner Claire Warnes, "seems to be firing on all cylinders". “But the deterioration in staff supply intensified this month [and] this is a worrying trend," she told the BBC, before calling for the government and UK businesses to "urgently address the skills gap".
The situation is most pressing in hospitality, a sector that’s been forced to go from walking to sprinting as restrictions are removed. But it’s also hurting IT and computing, where new demand has only exacerbated pre-pandemic skills shortages.
IT in a pandemic
Technology’s importance to society grew massively during the pandemic. Businesses, workers, students and shoppers all moved online as offices, schools and shops closed. Streaming went up too, along with social media activity, as home-tied internet users tried to keep entertained and connected.
So, while hospitality and others struggled to keep paying staff, IT talent was in high demand. The UK tech sector did so well, in fact, that its companies raised a record $15bn in 2020. So, while the money’s clearly there and companies are growing, the talent pool remains too small to meet demand.
Exacerbated by Brexit
As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, IT employers are also coping with the fall-out from Brexit. As well as around 1.3 million EU nationals leaving the UK, research from Indeed claims the number of people searching for British jobs from EU countries has also fallen by more than a third since May 2019. And this part of the situation could even worsen, as a recent IMA (Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements) survey found that one-in-ten EU nationals currently in the UK were considering leaving after the June 30th ‘settled status’ application deadline.
If bad things ‘come in threes’, the third factor in 2021’s digital skills gap is education.
According to the Learning & Work Institute, the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has fallen 40% since 2015. That fits with another finding from the same report that shows fewer than half of British employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with the right “advanced digital skills”.
So, who’s responsible here? If you ask the young people – and The Learning & Work Institute did – they’ll probably say ‘employers’: 70% expect employers to invest in on-the-job digital training. But only half of the companies asked can provide the necessary training, despite more than three-quarters believing a lack of digital skills negatively affects their profitability.
What happens now?
Clearly the digital skills shortage is multifaceted, and the response to it must be, too; both in the long term and short. The long-term responsibility for bridging the gap falls not only to employers and educators, but to the government, too.
In the meantime, businesses must remain competitive by finding, keeping and nurturing in-demand talent – and that’s where Optamor can help. Using data intelligence, employer branding, upskilling and talent pipelining, we help organisations get the best possible results from their hiring and training efforts.
Get in touch today to learn how we can support your business.