The skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing, according to research from The Open University.
The Open University Business Barometer – which monitors the skills landscape of the UK – finds that 90 per cent of employers have found it difficult to recruit workers with the required skills in the last 12 months, and some have had to inflate salaries to attract talent above market rate, costing at least £527 million alone.
The findings come at a time when the UK has the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade, and those in work are reluctant to move jobs due to continued Brexit uncertainty. At the same time, the lack of clarity about future immigration rules is putting off some EU nationals from taking up roles in the UK.
As a result, the recruitment process is taking longer for three-quarters of employers – an average of one month and 24 days more than expected – which means many will have incurred additional costs in the form of recruitment fees and hiring temporary staff, estimated to be at least £1.7 billion.
Talented workers with strong skill sets are in high demand, and are now able to command a higher salary. More than half (56 per cent) of businesses had to increase the salary on offer for a role well above market rate to get the skills they required in the last 12 months, with the average increase amounting to a hefty £4,150 per hire for SMEs and £5,575 per higher for larger organisations.
Managerial roles are proving particularly difficult to fill, with one in five struggling to hire both senior managers (21 per cent) and mid-level managers (19 per cent), and more than two in five (43 per cent) finding candidates lack management skills. At the same time, around half (47 per cetn) of employers say that they are struggling to attract talent with the right IT skills, despite the crucial role digital skills play in the UK economy.
Many employers (53 per cent) were unable to find a candidate with the required skill set and chose to hire at a lower level as a result. More than half (53 per cent) are using training to boost these new employees’ skills and to bring them up to the level required for the role.
Over the next year, employers are planning to change the type of training they offer to their staff, with the number of organisations in England offering apprenticeships expected to nearly double from 31 per cent, to 59 per cent – most likely as a result of the new apprenticeship levy, introduced in April. Just over half (52 per cent of employers in England expect the levy to reduce the skills gap in the next year, with three in five (62 per cent) viewing it as an opportunity for their organisation.
Despite this positivity from organisations, seven in 10 (69 per cent) businesses believe they will struggle to hire people with the right skills in the next 12 months, implying certain skills may take longer to build. With three in five (58 per cent) of employers saying the skills shortage has damaged their organisation, it is important that they ensure their training programmes provide their staff with the skills they require, in a way that allows them to put their new knowledge into practice in the workplace as soon as possible.
Steve Hill, External Engagement Director at The Open University, said: “The UK challenge of finding talent with the right skills means that businesses need to look at recruitment, development and retention differently. Now faced with a shrinking talent pool, exacerbated by the uncertainties of Brexit, it is more important that employers invest in developing their workforce.
''Organisations need an agile workforce that can embrace change and meet new challenges. The cost of the skills gap to the UK economy shows it must become a business and government priority to build the skills and capabilities of each individual through investing in talent at all levels. The Open University has a number of offerings, such as degree apprenticeships, which help to future-proof UK businesses and enable lifelong learning, as well as enabling greater social mobility by increasing opportunities.”
The full findings of the report will be presented to MPs and Peers at an event in the Houses of Parliament on 11 July.