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Viren Patel

The Open University

Director of Global Business

Read more from Viren Patel

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How organisations are bridging the Covid-19 skills gap

Nurturing talent shouldn’t stop during the pandemic.

The Open University’s Business Barometer has charted the skills landscape of the UK since 2017. This year, our report provided a temperature check for how organisations in the UK are dealing with the fallout from Covid-19.

There can be no doubt that the pandemic and the disruption it inflicted on business has caused unemployment to rise, the number of available job candidates has grown to a 17 year high. Given the talent pool theoretically at their disposal, one might assume that this has made it easier for employers to fill skills gaps in their organisations.

The obvious challenge for all organisations is that the priority skills they anticipate will be crucial in the next 12 months are the same as those that were found to be lacking in candidates the last time they tried to fill a skills shortage.

One of the key findings from this year’s Business Barometer suggests this has not been the case, however. Instead, the number of senior leaders who reported skills shortages within their organisations has barely changed over the past three years, with three in five reporting that they are still not able to access the skills they require.                             

There has actually been a sharp increase in the amount spent by businesses to find, secure and develop the skills they require in the last 12 months. This year’s figures show that employers increased spending on skills by £1.7 billion, with significant outlays going on recruitment fees, increased salaries, temporary staff, and training to upskill those hired at a lower level, to the tune of a total £6.6 billion.    

Digital and leadership skills in high demand

Skills that were in short supply pre-pandemic have become all the more sought after, with digital skills increasingly difficult for organisations to find.

In last year’s report, a third (34%) of senior business leaders reported that their organisation had struggled to recruit employees with the requisite IT skills. Whilst all things digital have taken on even greater importance this year, however, there has been no corresponding increase in the number of employees possessing these skills according to the new report.

As employers look to the future and plan for the skills they will need in the next 12 months, the Business Barometer suggests there will also be a strong focus on leadership and managerial capabilities.

Two in five (39%) said they will require leadership skills, with a similar number (38%) requiring managerial skills, such as decision-making. Technical and operational skills, those that are required to perform a specific task, are much lower priorities for organisations, with just under a third (30%) anticipating that they will be a requirement in the next 12 months.

All of which suggests that organisations’ desire to bring in much sought-after leadership and managerial skills reflects the value that close to two thirds (61%) of organisations now place on agility and adaptability as a result of the pandemic.

Supporting talent

The obvious challenge for all organisations is that the priority skills they anticipate will be crucial in the next 12 months are the same as those that were found to be lacking in candidates the last time they tried to fill a skills shortage. Slightly more than a third (34%) of employers said that the last time they struggled to fill a role was because candidates were lacking leadership and managerial skills.

So what can be done? The report does offer some encouragement for employers. Nearly half (48%) of employers acknowledge that apprenticeships and work-based learning initiatives will be vital to their organisation’s recovery over the next year. Nearly six in ten (58%) employers expect to be hiring more apprentices in the next 12 months too.

Likewise, in a drive to boost diversity more than two thirds (67%) are committed to hiring future employees from more diverse backgrounds, while nearly 37% are actively looking to hire candidates from the area local to their business. Such strategies are helping to break-up cycles of lower-paid work and are encouraging employers to reincorporate potential employees whose qualifications fail to accurately represent their capabilities and potential.

With the number of job candidates continuing to rise, The Open University is encouraging employers to prioritise raw talent and invest in supportive apprenticeship and work-based learning programmes to cultivate the skills their organisation needs.

With over half of organisations (52%) saying their survival depends on cutting costs, it’s critical that organisations adopt a ‘grow your own’ approach to talent and reskill existing employees and new hires appropriately for relevant roles. Doing so will enable them to adapt to any further challenges and uncertainties whilst cutting back on more expensive and short-termist recruitment policies. 

Watch the video

Interested in this topic? Check out Webinar: Embracing a changing skills landscape.

Author Profile Picture
Viren Patel

Director of Global Business

Read more from Viren Patel

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