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Bidwells study reveals UK's alarming skills gap - especially in science and technology

Research by Cambridge-based Bidwells has illuminated the alarming skills gap in the UK.

Most acutely felt in the knowledge-based industries, the mismatch between market demand and the supply of talent has prompted the property consultancy to call for urgent action to address the problem.

To assess the scale of the problem across different sectors, Bidwells compared industry vacancies against undergraduate enrolments in 2017.

It found there were more than three times more jobs available in professional and scientific or technical roles that undergraduates entering courses in those fields (72,000 compare to 21,970), while the construction industry was facing a similar shortage of skilled talent, with just 9,310 enrolling on courses compared to 28,000 vacancies.

Education (16,745 enrolments compared to 50,000 vacancies), health and social work (64,115 enrolments against 133,00 vacancies) and manufacturing (34,020 enrolments, 59,000 vacancies) were similarly facing a slow pipeline, that is likely to be made more challenging still by the UK’s exit from the European Union.

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 per cent 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 (Bidwells and Creative Places, 2018).

“The UK urgently needs to put in place measures to both deliver homegrown talent for the future as well as ease the process for attracting the best in class globally."

The research, based on Office for National Statistics and HESA full-time enrolment data, shows that despite more students taking computer science now, there were in shortages in information and communication (26,100 enrolments and 44,000 jobs). There was a smaller gap in administration, financial and insurance roles (79,095 enrolments, 94,000 jobs).

Arts and entertainment, however, looks to have an over-supply problem, with 50,340 students enrolling in courses in these fields, but only 19,000 jobs available in them last year.

The Open University has estimates that the UK skills gap costs the country more than £2billion, and has found 91 per cent of businesses have had difficulty recruiting in the last year, forcing them to pay higher salaries, incur greater recruitment costs or employ temporary staff as a result.

Studies have also shown that 97 per cent of organisations working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing) and 96 per cent of financial organisations have had difficulty recruiting skilled employees over the last 12 months.

A 2017 Tech Nation report showed more than half of business owners in the UK’s digital tech community reported a shortage of highly-skilled employees, with a quarter saying sourcing talent was a major challenge

Some 75 per cent of manufacturing businesses and 71 per cent in the services sector have reported recruitment difficulties in the latest British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey.

Science and technology jobs are predicted to grow at double the rate of other occupations - some 142,000 new roles are predicted by 2023.

The London Datastore suggests the information and communication sector will be the UK’s second highest growing sector in the coming decade, with 45 per cent employment growth forceast by 2050.

Bidwells’ research points out that these are sectors the UK government’s Industrial Strategy indicates are the most significant to the UK’s economic future, yet the shortage of sufficiently quality labour is a major threat.

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