Education needs to pick up the tech

The UK skills gap is set to continue, as a study reveals that vacancies in the tech sector outweigh student enrolments

With continuous demand for skilled employees in some of the country’s highest growth sectors, the UK skills gap is a major and well-publicised crisis that, according to a report by the Open University, costs the country more than £2bn a year.

Further findings have stated 97% of organisations working in STEM and 96% of financial organisations have had difficulty hiring skilled employees over the last 12 months. A 2017 report by Tech Nation revealed over 50% of business owners in the UK digital tech community reported a shortage of highly skilled employees, while a quarter said sourcing talent was a major challenge.

To find out more, the research team at Bidwells compared industry vacancies against undergrad enrolments in 2017, in a bid to uncover which areas face the most significant shortages.

University Enrolments Vs. Average Industry Vacancies:

Industry Vacancies 2018 Enrolments 2017 Gap
Professional & scientific tech 72,000 21,970 -69.49%
Construction 28,000 9,310 -66.75%
Education 50,000 16,745 -66.51%
Health & social work 133,000 64,115 -51.79%
Manufacturing 59,000 34,020 -42.34%
Information & communication 44,000 26,100 -40.68%
Admin, financial & insurance 94,000 79,095 -15.86%
Arts & entertainment 19,000 50,340 164.95%

Data: ONS average industry vacancies 2018 and HESA full-time, first degree university enrolments 2017

Despite growing student enrolments in fields like computer science and tech, new jobs in these high-growth sectors still outweigh the number of skilled workers to fill them.

The latest British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey indicates the skills shortages are reaching critical levels, with 75% of businesses in the manufacturing sector and 71% in the services sector reporting recruitment difficulties. The Open University found 91% of organisations struggled to find skilled talent in the last 12 months, having to spend money on higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staff as a result. Brexit adds a further level of uncertainty for companies and their ability to recruit the best of the world’s talent.

High growth sectors facing challenges

Analysis of university enrolments demonstrates the mismatch between market demand for skills and future supply of talent is particularly acute in knowledge-based industries. It suggests current vacancies in professional and scientific tech positions are three times higher than the total number of related university enrolments.

Science and tech jobs are predicted to grow twice as quickly as other occupations, with 142,000 new jobs in science, research, engineering and tech anticipated by 2023. Looking further ahead, The London Datastore projects information and communication will be the second highest growing sector over the coming decade in the UK, with an estimated 45% increase in employment growth by 2050.

According to the Industrial Strategy, these sectors are the most significant to the UK’s economic future, but the shortages of suitably qualified, high-skilled labour will present a brake on the UK economy unless addressed.

Investing in local and foreign talent

Will Heigham, Lead Partner for Science and Technology at Bidwells, said: “Having already had a major impact on employment and skills, digitisation is set to cause even more disruption in the decades ahead, making it crucial for the current workforce to embrace continuously adapting skill sets and a changing workplace landscape. However, the analysis of UK university output underlines the fact that companies will need to continue to look further afield.

“In a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, when businesses were asked how they would respond to a potential restriction on access to EU workers, only 43% said their business wouldn’t be affected, while some aim to pay additional costs to recruit from the EU, relocate businesses partially or completely overseas, or retain older employees.

“Preliminary results of our survey of major international R&D companies indicate skilled labour is the most important issue for companies when choosing sites for R&D facilities.  The UK urgently needs to put in place measures to deliver homegrown talent for the future, as well as ease the process for attracting the best in class globally.”