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Employer Skills Survey
September 6, 2018

The UK Employer Skills Survey (ESS) is one of the largest business surveys in the world, with the data in this report based on survey responses from over 87,000 employers.

Recruitment and skill-shortage vacancies

Growth in recruitment activity was evident across most of the UK.

In line with previous years, a third of vacancies in the UK (33%) were considered hard to fill.

There has been an 8% increase in the number of skill-shortage vacancies compared with 2015. They were most numerous in the Business Services sector (just under 52,000 at the time of the survey), though as a proportion of all vacancies in the sector, the density of such vacancies was highest in Construction. By occupation, employers were most likely to have experienced skills-related difficulties when recruiting for Skilled Trades positions. The skills disproportionately lacking for Professionals included advanced IT skills and complex analytical skills.

The proportion of vacancies proving hard to fill exclusively for non-skills-related reasons was highest in Health and Social Work.

Among employers who had vacancies that were proving hard to fill, 34% had attempted to recruit EU nationals to try to help overcome recruitment difficulties. This was a particularly common way of trying to fill hard-to-fill vacancies in the Hotels and Restaurants sector (53%).

Skills gaps in the workplace

This internal skills challenge arises when employees lack proficiency to fulfil their role. Of employers surveyed 13% reported skills gaps in their workforce (1.27 million staff). This
continues a trend of a steady decline.

As was the case in 2015, the most common skill lacking among staff was time management and prioritisation of tasks, contributing to nearly three-fifths of all skills gaps. Other causes of skills gaps included deficiencies in sales and customer skills, and a lack of knowledge of an organisation’s products, services and processes (both 49%).

Reported deficiencies in complex analytical skills (43%) and digital skills (35%) were less prevalent than in 2015.The proportion of skills gaps caused by a lack of proficiency in advanced or specialist IT skills fell from over a quarter in 2015 (27%) to less than a fifth in 2017 (19%).

Training and workforce development

In line with the two previous ESS surveys in 2013 and 2015, two-thirds of employers in the UK (66%) had provided training for their staff over the past 12 months. There are indications that the quantity and type of training may not be being maintained. An evident shift since 2015 in how employers provide training for their staff comes from the increased use of online training and e-learning across ALL sectors. There was a decrease in the number of staff being trained to nationally recognised qualifications.

High performance working

High performance working (HPW) is a general approach to managing organisations that aims to stimulate more effective employee involvement and commitment in order to achieve high levels of performance. 9% of employers are regarded as HPW employers; that is, they adopt at least 14 of the 21 HPW practices covered in ESS. This compares to 8% in 2015.

There is a clear relationship between an establishment’s working practices and their provision of training. HPW employers were much more likely to have provided training for their staff than non-HPW employers. They were also more likely to have provided training that led to nationally recognised qualifications and to qualifications that are of a higher level.

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