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Industries Grapple with Severe Skills Gaps

27 September 2023

Overview

UK businesses are facing a substantial challenge with severe skills gaps across various critical industries such as technology, engineering, manufacturing, and cybersecurity. This mismatch between job openings and qualified candidates is not only affecting individual companies but also posing a risk to the nation's economic growth and global competitiveness.

Cybersecurity

The rapid pace of digital transformation has significantly increased the need for cybersecurity professionals. Organisations require skilled experts to protect sensitive data and systems from cyber threats. However, the supply of qualified cybersecurity graduates from UK universities is not meeting this demand, resulting in fierce competition for talent and escalating salaries for these roles.

“Employers are now competing for talent and seeing salaries increase significantly as they vie for top candidates.„
Christian Toon (Cyber professional services expert of Pinsent Masons) August 2023

Data and IT

The explosion of data and the increasing reliance on software solutions have made skills in data analytics, programming, cloud engineering, and database management some of the most sought-after in the market. The demand for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning expertise is particularly critical, as these technologies drive innovation and operational efficiency.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are considered top priority skills in 2023, with two in five employers reporting it as the most sought-after skill in the UK job market. The increasing reliance on technology and data is fuelling the demand for AI experts who can leverage technology to drive innovation and efficiency.„
Jo Thornhill (Editor of Forbes Advisor) August 2023

Engineering

Engineering, both in its software and traditional forms, faces severe recruitment challenges. Positions for mechanical, aerospace, civil, and electrical engineers are frequently left vacant for long periods. The gap between available roles and qualified professionals has widened, creating what experts describe as a "skills chasm."

"What was previously a skills gap is fast becoming a skills chasm,"
"There is an acute lack of graduates and trained professionals with the right skills to fill open posts and too little is being done to incentivise courses and training in subject areas that are notoriously short on skills. Equally, not enough is being done by the government to make it easier for businesses to access talent in the specific areas they need to recruit."
said Alistair Cox (chief executive of Hays)

Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector is another area severely impacted by skills shortages. As the industry moves towards more advanced and automated processes, there is an increasing need for workers with specialised skills in areas such as robotics, advanced machinery operation, and quality control. The traditional image of manufacturing jobs needs to evolve to attract younger talent who are more inclined towards high-tech and innovative careers.

Government Efforts

Recognising the economic risks posed by these skills mismatches, the UK government has introduced several programs aimed at expanding training and talent pipelines to meet the needs of these critical industries.

Key Initiatives:

  • Skills for Jobs White Paper: This initiative seeks to reform technical education to better align with employer needs. By tailoring education to the demands of the job market, the government hopes to create a workforce that is better prepared for the challenges of the modern economy.
  • Help to Grow Scheme: Targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), this scheme provides leadership and digital skills training to help businesses grow and become more competitive.
  • Increased Investment in Vocational Programs: The government is boosting investments in apprenticeships, skills boot camps, and T-levels to provide alternative pathways to traditional university education. These programs are designed to equip individuals with the hands-on experience and technical skills required in today's job market.
  • Visa Programs: To address immediate shortages, the UK has introduced visa programs aimed at attracting global talent in technology and science fields. This approach not only helps fill current gaps but also brings diverse perspectives and expertise to the UK workforce.
  • Industry Partnerships: Collaboration between educational institutions and industries is being encouraged to ensure that training programs are continuously updated to reflect the evolving demands of the job market. These partnerships are crucial for creating a dynamic and responsive education system.

Despite these initiatives, experts argue that more investment and coordination are necessary across educational institutions, businesses, and government to effectively bridge the skills gap. A long-term strategy that includes continuous learning and upskilling is essential to keep pace with technological advancements and industry needs.

The Role of Education

Education plays a pivotal role in addressing skills gaps. There is a pressing need for the curriculum at all levels to be updated to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. This includes integrating more practical and technical training into traditional academic programs, fostering a culture of lifelong learning, and promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education from an early age.

Proposed Educational Reforms:

  • Curriculum Modernisation: Schools, colleges, and universities need to revise their curricula to include more technical and vocational training. This ensures that students graduate with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.
  • STEM Promotion: Encouraging more students to pursue careers in STEM fields is crucial. This can be achieved through targeted campaigns, scholarships, and partnerships with industries that showcase the exciting and impactful nature of these careers.
  • Lifelong Learning: Promoting a culture of continuous learning and upskilling is essential in a rapidly changing job market. Educational institutions should offer flexible learning opportunities, such as online courses and evening classes, to accommodate working professionals.

Industry's Role

Industries themselves must play a proactive role in addressing skills gaps. This includes investing in employee training and development, offering internships and apprenticeships, and collaborating with educational institutions to ensure that training programs are aligned with industry needs.

Best Practices for Industry:

  • Investment in Training: Companies should invest in ongoing training programs for their employees. This not only helps bridge the skills gap but also improves employee retention and satisfaction.
  • Internships and Apprenticeships: Offering hands-on learning opportunities for students and new graduates helps create a pipeline of skilled workers who are ready to enter the workforce.
  • Collaboration with Education: By working closely with educational institutions, businesses can help shape the curriculum and ensure that graduates have the skills needed in the job market.

Future Outlook

The future of the UK workforce depends on the ability to adapt to changing industry demands and technological advancements. This requires a coordinated effort from government, educational institutions, and businesses to create a dynamic and responsive skills ecosystem.

Strategic Focus Areas:

  • Technology Integration: Embracing new technologies and incorporating them into training programs is essential. This includes leveraging virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other advanced tools to enhance learning experiences.
  • Global Talent Attraction: While developing local talent is crucial, attracting skilled professionals from around the world can help fill immediate gaps and bring diverse perspectives to the UK workforce.
  • Policy Support: Government policies should support innovation and skills development through incentives, funding, and regulatory frameworks that encourage continuous improvement and adaptation.

Conclusion

Addressing the UK's severe skills gaps is a multifaceted challenge that requires innovative training, recruitment, and retention strategies. By aligning education with industry needs, investing in continuous learning, and fostering collaboration between all stakeholders, the UK can develop a robust talent pipeline that supports economic growth and competitiveness. The journey ahead is complex, but with concerted efforts, the UK can overcome these challenges and secure a prosperous future.