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With a General Election and Brexit on the horizon, a new report shows worrying skills shortages in the engineering, IT and care work industries. Insights explain how apprenticeships can help employers find the best talent

A chronic lack of skills and an ineffective education system are threatening to harm the UK’s growth and competitiveness as the nation secures its exit from European Union membership, according to new research from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REV)  Apprenticeships can be the answer.

The report showed employers in the UK are struggling to fill vacancies after the sharpest drop for more than a year in the number of available candidates.

The REC said its latest monthly snapshot of the jobs market found vacancies continued to rise in April for permanent and temporary staff, albeit at a softer pace than in March, reaching their weakest levels for 16 months.

Firms are reporting skills shortages across a range of more than 60 roles, including engineers, IT specialists, care workers and accountants.

This is understandably a cause for concern for many employers and recruiters. Currently, many companies are hiring people from EU nations to fill the skills gap, but once the UK leaves the bloc, it is likely there may be greater restrictions on immigrants moving to Britain.

Compiled by consultancy IHS Markit using data from 400 recruitment firms, the REC study found demand for staff rose sharply across the private sector in April, but declined across the public sector.

Interestingly, employers are seemingly finding it easier to find contractors, rather than permanent staffers. In April, the pace of expansion for temporary placements was the fastest since December, but there was also a slowdown in the number of people placed into permanent roles.

REC chief executive Kevin Green says bosses are increasingly worried about government investment in training and career advice and future access to economic migrants.

“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,” he 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.”

Apprenticeships, filling the gap

With new innovative businesses and enterprises created each year in fast-growing industries such as IT and engineering, high level modern apprenticeships have proven to be important initiatives for SMEs and blue chip businesses for developing young talent with the cutting-edge skills they demand most in their industry.

CMI director of strategy Petra Wilton said apprenticeships will be necessary for employers to build for growth in the coming years.

“Investment in high-quality apprenticeships will be a crucial step in tackling the UK’s crippling professional skills crisis highlighted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s study,” she said. “As we head towards Brexit, we’ll need an internationally competitive economy built on world-class skills. The Apprenticeship Levy is now there for the taking, giving employers the means to invest in developing home-grown talent.

“According to employers, 65% of current graduates do not have the management skills they’re looking for. Investing in management apprenticeships will provide school leavers and existing workers alike with the hands-on, practical experience needed to gain those management and leadership capabilities.