PwC: UK employers suffering from skills shortages or expect to in next five years

PwC: UK employers suffering from skills shortages or expect to in next five years

Kevin Ellis

Most employers have skills shortages in their workforce or expect to have shortages in the next five years, according to new research conducted by PwC.

Concerns around skills shortages were profound with 33% experiencing a current shortage in core business skills such as teamwork, leadership, relationship-building and communication skills, while a further 41% expected to have shortages in the year ahead.

There is also a real need for capacity building for the net-zero transition as over three quarters (76%) of employers already have a shortage of the skills needed to support the transition to net-zero or expect to within the next 12 months (36% and 40%, respectively).

However, despite the skills struggle, in general employers show broad positivity about the education system with around 70% of respondents agreeing that it prepares young people well for work, life, and to work at organisations like theirs.

Employers are more divided on potential curriculum changes that would better serve the needs of their organisation. Some 21% ranked young people getting more practical work experience as the curriculum change that would have the greatest impact. Weaving digital skills throughout all subjects was next, ranking first for 17%. A greater focus on career options, greater focus on practical application of subjects, and making Maths and English compulsory followed - each were first choice for around 12-13% of respondents.

Interestingly, just 5% ranked employers having more input in the curriculum as the most impactful potential change.

Employers are also broadly satisfied with the current assessment system, with just shy of 70% agreeing the current system helps young people to develop both social skills and problem-solving/independent thinking.

Around two thirds (65%) think assessments prepare young people for the type of work their organisation does and 73% think it accurately tests academic ability. Beyond academic performance there is a mismatch - 89% think it’s important that this is assessed, while 63% believe the current assessment system does so.

When asked what would be the top benefit of reimagining education to better meet their organisations needs, one in five (19%) rank being able to contribute to a more resilient UK economy or being able to contribute to a more socially inclusive UK economy as the top-ranking benefit.

It is clear that employers have a huge appetite for clarity and collaboration on pathways from education to employment - 87% say their organisation would benefit, and 85% say employers and education providers should work together on this.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC UK, said: “Exams have their place but they can be unduly influenced by someone’s background and the opportunities given to them. They’re not the best measure of potential. Employers will miss out on talent if they measure it through one lens alone. Assessment needs to be more inclusive.

“Basic numeracy and literacy should be a given. We also need other skills that stand the test of time, such as empathy, resilience and agility. You can’t predict all the jobs that will exist in the future but you can predict the mindset needed to adapt and be ready.”

Supporting social mobility in recruitment is also high on businesses’ agenda with over three quarters (77%) having recruitment policies that take into account the impact of socioeconomic background on school assessment performance. Likewise, of those who use their own assessment techniques when recruiting school, college, and university leavers, almost two in five (38%) do so because it allows them to hire more people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Over half of employers (56%) have increased the number of apprentices they hire since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy five years ago. When asked what would incentivise them to hire more - new courses and qualifications that are better aligned to their organisation’s skills needs is the top-ranked option, followed by relaxation of the requirement for 20% off the job training.

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