Businesses across all sectors are facing significant and increasing difficulties in recruitment, which Brexit may exacerbate even further, according to the latest figures from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
The organisation’s influential quarterly economic survey, which polled 6,000 companies across the UK, found both hiring and broader development and availability of skills were under pressure amid an economy that began 2019 in a “weak holding pattern”.
Manufacturing was a particular pinch point, with 81 per cent of firms in the sector reporting recruitment difficulties, the joint highest level ever recorded in the survey.
Uncertainty over the ability to recruit EU nationals into the sector post-Brexit was a particular concern, Bhavina Bharkhada, education and skills policy advisor at manufacturing employers group EEF, told People Management.
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“Brexit will only make the skills shortage we’ve had in our sector worse, but that shortage existed before,” she said. “On average, EU nationals make up about 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce, so there will be a knock-on effect for employers in the sector.”
Applications from the EU fell notably as uncertainty over the state of Brexit negotiations grew, added Bharkhada.
“In 2017, manufacturers saw a 26 per cent decrease in job applications from EU citizens. When we surveyed them again in 2018, this fell to 17 per cent. Therefore the unavoidable Brexit uncertainty has impacted the skills shortage, although the magnitude of the problem has decreased slightly [recently].”
Bharkhada said stagnating productivity and the challenges of adapting to new technologies were also impacting the sector, while the BCC added that increased input prices were forcing manufacturers to delay investment.
“We have a shrinking talent pool,” added Bharkhada. “It’s not just that we won’t be able to access EU nationals on the same basis after Brexit. If you look at the number of people from a BAME background and the number of women in our sector, it is not reflective of the population as a whole.“
In the services sector, the proportion of companies looking to recruit rose to half, said the BCC. Of those, 70 per cent reported difficulties in hiring.
“There are increasing demands for new skill sets in virtually every job and profession,” said Phil Coulter, EMEA market lead for technology at Korn Ferry. “As the UK continues its transformation into an increasingly digitally-led business environment, it is concerning that according to the BCC, more companies are finding it harder than ever before to recruit staff.
“With all the changes taking place around us, the time is now for talent acquisition professionals and business leaders to adopt a more strategic approach to the future and current workforce,” he added. “This means planning hires and spotting skill requirements early, with a close powerful tie to the business to help inform strategic needs.
“While we’ve already seen a move in this direction, more can still be done to plan strategically to ensure skills are maximised among the workforce. After all, this will be the rule – not the exception – to driving the UK’s economy forward.”