There was a 21-month high in job vacancies in January – caused by a “reduction in candidate availability”, according to Tom Hadley, REC director of policy who spoke to the Telegraph today. “Good news for workers”, he concluded.
It is good news for workers – but only for workers. The currently unemployed (who are, for the most part, untrained) are unlikely to benefit from the growth in demand. Workers, on the other hand, will be fought over. Hadley’s most telling word, here, is “candidate”: it’s not that there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs – it’s just that there aren’t enough with the right skills.
The gap between the unskilled unemployed and the skilled employed is starting to become unbridgeable. Despite growing youth unemployment, the Economist reported last December that more than a third of employers worldwide had trouble filling jobs. This is likely to get worse, too. At one end the number of unemployed will continue to expand – unhired and unskilled, and at the other employers will be fighting over the most desirable employees, causing wage inflation in some places.
Last year I wrote about this finding from Mckinsey, which seems to show extra education is a good idea right now, in terms of your future employment prospects. Here’s a handy visual guide:
Now is certainly the time to skill up. But they have to be the right kind of skills. There seems to be a disconnect between educators and employers – the sectors crying out for workers (IT, engineering), match the university courses with the empty lecture halls.
How do you address this? Well, one idea is to pour money into apprentice schemes and funded places at technical colleges – which the government is, to some extent, doing. (For example, there’s the Employer Ownership Pilot, a 250m funded training scheme for employers).
It’s possibly worth mentioning that South Korea are a little ahead of the game here – they have created a series of new “meister” schools – well funded technical colleges that aim to address the country’s machine operator and plumber shortage. (The word “meister” is, apparently, an attempt to add kudos to an otherwise lower status education path.)
But what to do while the skills catch up with the potential work force? One option would be to make it easier for employers to recruit talent from abroad – although it’s a long and bureaucratic process to get talented workers in from other countries, and the immigration cap isn’t helping either. But right now we have shrinking options: perhaps it’s time to call for reinforcements.