South West businesses need better access to skilled staff

Businesses in the South West need urgent help to fill widening skills gaps, after latest figures show mounting pressure on firms struggling to recruit staff remains at record high levels.

British Chambers of Commerce South West (BCCSW) – which represents thousands of firms in the region – says businesses need “concrete help accessing skilled staff” if they are to continue to bounce back from the impact of Covid-19.

Latest figures released today by the British Chambers of Commerce show the pressure on firms struggling to recruit staff remains at record high levels.

The data for the BCC’s Quarterly Recruitment Outlook survey for Q1 2022 was drawn from a survey of 5,500 businesses.   

Stuart Elford, Chair of BCCSW, said: “British Chambers of Commerce South West has been working with further and higher education institutions across the region to help businesses access the next generation of skilled employees. But the labour pool is still too small and business and education can only do so much alone.

“The South West is acutely affected by the shortage and difficulties facing recruitment, given the proportionally high levels of hospitality businesses.

“We’re a fast-growing region for technical, engineering, digital and highly creative firms – these businesses need concrete help accessing skilled staff.

“More funding for retraining opportunities and temporary visas to fill urgent skill gaps would be two short- and long-term measures that would begin to alleviate an issue that threatens to undermine our chances of a strong recovery post-pandemic.”

Attempted recruitment in Q1 was down slightly with 60% looking to recruit staff (64% in Q4). However, the proportion of firms reporting difficulties filling roles remains at a historical high at 78%, dropping just one percentage point from the previous quarter (79%).  

The hospitality sector was facing the most challenging recruitment issues, with 85%, reporting difficulties, up from 83% in Q4 2021. This was closely followed by construction (83%), logistics (81%) and manufacturers (80%).

Retail and wholesale firms were the least likely to report difficulties at 69% but the proportions of firms that cannot find the staff they need remains worryingly high. 

Businesses reported a broad range of issues which contributed to the overall recruitment squeeze – this included disruption due to Covid and a drop in the availability of foreign staff. 

More firms are also reporting that wage competition is proving disruptive. 

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the BCC, says: ”It’s now harder than ever for businesses to fill job vacancies and there are no signs of improvement.

“In an increasingly tight labour market, competition for skills is ramping up wage costs, leaving many firms unable to recruit the people they need.   

“When combined with the escalating price of energy, shipping, raw materials and other costs, it is a precarious situation for businesses.

“Inevitably, it is the smaller firms, with little in the way of cash reserves after two years of pandemic, who are most exposed to the risk all this presents. 

“The UK government needs to take concrete action to address labour shortages as they are a key factor in the economy’s stuttering recovery. If firms cannot get the people they need, then productivity and revenue are two of the first casualties. 

“Government must also ensure that people can access rapid retraining opportunities for in-demand jobs at all skill levels in the workforce. At the same time, where there is clear evidence of national shortages damaging the economy, we need temporary visas for hard working people willing to come to the UK to work in the essential every-day roles that we all rely on.    

“Businesses are investing more in developing home-grown talent – and creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce – but this won’t solve pervasive skills shortages overnight. Right now, the priority has to be to improve access to skills and ease the wider cost pressures facing business.”

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