Skills shortage a worry for mid-sized firms

Medium sized businesses in the UK are being held back from achieving their full growth potential as a result of severe skills shortages, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has said.

In a major survey, which interviewed over 75,000 employers, the UKCES said that a lack of skills was 'endangering the UK's economic recovery'.

It found that 15 per cent of firms had reported a vacancy due to lack of skills, with a total of 533,400 vacancies reported in 2010-11. Although this was higher than the levels of vacancies seen in the year previous, they were not as high as the pre-recession levels recorded in 2007.

It found that mid-sized firms - those that employ between 25-199 people - who had experienced a 'skills shortage vacancy' over the past year could not find the right employees to fill roles.

Nine in 10 firms said that difficulty in recruiting workers with adequate skills had a significant impact on their ability to expand.

Talking to The Telegraph, Neil McLean, commissioner at the UKCES said: "There are worrying signs that the country is experiencing a skills 'squeezed middle', with core nucleus of hungry, medium-sized firms finding it difficult to employ staff with the skills they need.

"As a group, these mid-sized firms are weathering the recession pretty well - indeed, they have continued to recruit over the past four years. They are undoubtedly our best hope for growth. Yet these businesses are often overlooked by policy-makers in favour of entrepreneurial start-ups or huge multinationals."

In particular, it found the majority of skills shortages occurred amongst skilled trades such as carpenters, electricians and mechanics, where a third of positions were hard to fill. By sector, 24 per cent of manufacturing and community social and personal services vacancies remained unfilled due to skills shortages.

The West Midlands and the North West were the areas most affected, where one in every five vacancies was blamed on lack of skilled workers.

Overall, the survey found that almost 1.3 million employees, equating to six per cent of employees, were deemed as not having the skills required to perform their job. The UKCES said that training was often the best response.