Most UK workers say skills will be their biggest workplace issue this year

8 Jan 2019 By Francis Churchill

But Brexit is more likely to impact labour volumes than specific skills, adds CIPD

More than half of UK workers believe finding the right skills will be one of the biggest issues faced by their employer in 2019.

Of 2,035 employees surveyed by the arbitration provider Acas at the end of last year, 53 per cent said “getting the right people with the right skills” would be among the three biggest problems in their workplace.

Just over a third (36 per cent) cited productivity, the same amount that named technological change.

Acas surveyed the employees, all below senior management level, over a one-week period in mid-December.

Susan Clews, Acas chief executive, said the results could be attributed either to uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU or general concerns around skills shortages. “It is unsurprising that productivity continues to be a top concern in UK workplaces,” she said.

"Technological change is also on people’s minds and we have found that if it is not managed well, then it can cause stress and impact workplace relations.

“We believe a well-managed and innovative workplace that encourages employee engagement can help improve the UK’s low productivity and make the most of people’s skills.”

Lizzie Crowley, skills policy advisor at the CIPD, told People Management it was unsurprising skills were highlighted as a critical business issue, but said Brexit was likely to impact the volume of labour available rather than individual skill requirements. 

“I don’t think it’s hugely surprising given the current uncertainties with regards to exiting the EU and the impact that’s likely to have on the ability of businesses to find the right number of people,” she said.

“Our research, though, suggests the biggest impact from Brexit will be on the volume of labour, not necessarily the particular skills those individuals have. Many of the industries that have a very high proportion of EU migrants working for them are in some of the lower-skilled areas.”

However, Crowley added skills were a major issue for businesses regardless of Brexit and the UK’s low level of unemployment meant the pool of talent employers had to draw on was already limited.

Concerns were raised about the availability of skills post-Brexit by some experts last month after the government announced its long-awaited plan for post-Brexit immigration. It included a new visa to replace the current Tier 2 visa used for high-skilled workers, which would apply to both EU and non-EU nationals.

Also announced was a transitional temporary workers scheme for EU nationals and “low risk” non-EU nationals of any skill level to obtain a 12-month visa.

While the proposal brought welcome clarity for some, others raised concerns the new system could be less accommodating for employers looking for lower-paid and lower-skilled workers.

The results of the Acas poll also echoed a Deloitte survey published last month that found more than a quarter of UK workers were “not performing at their best”, and that the UK lagged behind its European counterparts in workplace performance.

The Deloitte study reported concerns over technological change, with 61 per cent of respondents saying advanced IT skills were essential for them to remain employable.

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