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Job vacancies becoming harder to fill

Written by: Christina Hoghton
Businesses are facing a skills shortage due to a combination of the pandemic and Brexit, with hospitality the worst hit sector

Firms are increasingly struggling to find the right people to hire, according to the latest government figures.

Businesses say that 13% of vacancies are currently difficult to fill across all industries, up from 9% just a month ago, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

But that jumps up to 30% in the hospitality sector where firms are finding it really difficult to find staff, followed by the water industry (27%), health (23%) and transport (15%) sectors.

Vacancy challenges are more common for larger businesses, with four in 10 struggling to fill vacancies in late August.

What’s the problem?

The most common reasons given by businesses were a lack of applicants with the right skills (67%), fewer EU applicants (25%) and the fact that the role isn’t paid enough (15%).

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “More than one in eight businesses are fighting a losing battle to recruit the right people. The world of work has shifted, and there aren’t enough applicants with the right skills. Meanwhile, Brexit has persuaded many EU workers to leave the UK, and in some industries, people just aren’t willing to do the work for the pay on offer.

“It makes life nigh-on impossible for recruiters. Part of the problem is that the world of work is changing.

“Retailers, for example, have had to close stores and lay staff off as footfall dropped, then to meet the needs of more online demand they’ve opened new distribution hubs and hired more warehouse staff and drivers. It means booming demand in some areas and shrinking in others, and staff may not have the skills or the inclination to make the move.”

Danni Hewson, AJ Bell financial analyst, added: “The labour shortage has been tough for businesses trying to capitalise on post lockdown trade and it doesn’t show any sign of getting better in a hurry, in fact the situation only seems be getting more acute.

“It’s no surprise to see hospitality topping the list of those struggling to recruit. Restrictions meant they were late to the party and many people who used to work in bars and restaurants found other jobs to pay the bills, jobs that often have more sociable hours.

“It’s hard to know how big a part Brexit has played because the waters have been well and truly muddied by the pandemic. It’s also impossible to guess how the end of the furlough scheme will change the picture. Some jobs will be lost, and some workers will be brought back into the labour market where they will be received with open arms if the latest recruitment drive by John Lewis is anything to go by.”

High level of vacancies

There were 1,034,000 job vacancies in the UK in June to August 2021, an increase of 35.2% (269,300) on the previous quarter and the highest since records began in 2001.

The hospitality and transport and storage industries were among those with a record number of vacancies in June to August, with job openings up by 59.1% and 32.5% respectively compared with pre-pandemic levels (January to March 2020).

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