Could a huge skills gap hit this country’s recovery?


Thousands of jobs vacancies are going unfilled across the U.K. as employers struggle with an "unprecedented" skills shortage, a report released Thursday by the British government showed.

While job vacancies have increased since the global financial crisis subsided, the number of positions left open because employers can't find people with the right skill set has more than doubled — rising 130 percent in the four year to 2015 total 209,000 openings.

It comes amid a shrinking labor pool, as U.K. unemployment dropped to 5.1 percent in the three months to December, marking its lowest level since 2005.

Maciej Noskowski | Getty Images

"Within this buoyant labor market, skill-shortage vacancies presented a growing challenge for employers in filling their vacancies," the 2015 report written by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) explained.

Nearly a third of U.K. trades positions— including electricians, gas, water and construction workers — faced skill-deficit related vacancies, while financial services saw the most dramatic rise in jumping to 21 percent in 2015 from 10 percent in 2013.

Employers said analytical skills were one of the main abilities that job applicants lacked, and that time management, sales and customer service were some of the hardest talents to lock down.

A job seeker (left) shakes hands with a recruiter during a WorkSource Seattle-King County Aerospace, Maritime and Manufacturing job fair in Seattle on Oct. 6, 2015.
The skills employers are looking for

Britain isn't the only developed nation in a tough spot, though. In its 2016 outlook report, jobs and human resources site CareerBuilder said 63 percent of employers were concerned about a growing skills gap, while 48 percent said they had extended vacancies in an effort to find appropriate candidates.

However, 33 percent planned to hire and train low-skilled workers to compensate. While this may be one solution, two-thirds of U.K. employers say they're taking a direct financial hit to fill this gap as they outsource work or increase operating costs.

"The UK has witnessed exceptionally strong job creation in the past few years, creating jobs at a faster rate than any other EU country. However, this growth has been accompanied by stalling productivity levels," UKCES Commissioner Douglas McCormick said in the survey press release.

"Developing the skills of the existing workforce to taking advantage of new technology and digitization will be critical if the UK is to finally close the productivity gap," he said.