LONDON — The number of suitable job candidates has fallen to its lowest level in 16 months, stoking concerns about a post-Brexit skills shortage.
Growth in permanent job roles in April slowed to its weakest since October, “but was nonetheless solid overall,” according to a report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
Engineering was the most in-demand category for permanent staff in April, closely followed by IT and nursing.
Meanwhile, demand for temporary workers increased at the fastest rate this year, the REC said.
“Demand for staff is growing within all sectors and all regions of the UK, but there are fewer and fewer people available to fill the vacancies,” REC Chief Executive Kevin Green said.
“We have the lowest unemployment rate since 2005, and people already in work are becoming more hesitant about moving jobs amid Brexit uncertainty. Meanwhile, the weakening pound and lack of clarity about future immigration rules is putting off some EU nationals from taking up roles in the UK.”
The weakening pound and lack of clarity about future immigration rules is putting off some EU nationals from taking up roles in the UK
“As a result, candidate availability is at a 16-month low and recruiters are flagging a shortage of suitable applicants for more than 60 different roles from cleaner to accountant,” said Green.
“Every shortage has wider implications, for example the exceptional reputation UK engineering enjoys globally is at risk because employers can’t find people with the skills they need.” he said.
Immigration and access to talented individuals has become a battleground between business and government.
On Monday Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to reduce immigration to fewer than 100,000 in the wake of Brexit, down from 273,000 in 2016. The Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s largest business lobby group, said government immigration targets would do more harm than good to the economy.
“Just as businesses’ physical supply chains are integrated into the EU economy as they buy and sell raw materials, parts and finished goods to and from the continent, they also send workers to and fro across the Channel, and it would be a serious blow if that flexibility is lost,” Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director-general, said.
EU worker numbers dropping
The Office for National Statistics said the number of EU workers fell by 50,000 to 2.3 million in the final three months of last year — the biggest drop in five years according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, a survey by human resources group CIPD found that “almost one in three employers said that EU nationals were looking to leave their organisation as a direct result of Brexit.”
Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, said earlier this year that “this is creating significant recruitment challenges in sectors that have historically relied on non-UK labour to fill roles and who are particularly vulnerable to the prospect of future changes to EU immigration policy.”
Worst hit has been the public sector. 43% of education and 49% of healthcare sector employers said “they believed EU migrants among their workforce were considering leaving their organisation and/or the UK in 2017.”
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to benefit UK workers. Around a quarter of employers said they would leave positions vacated by EU workers unfilled, with fewer than a tenth saying they would pay more to attract UK workers.