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How to keep IT and engineering contractors coming

It has been well-documented, seemingly since time in memorial, that there is a shortage of suitably skilled workers within the IT and Engineering sectors. But now these shortages have become so acute that industry commentators are predicting an all-our war between employers battling it out to attract and retain the best and most skilled workers for their organisations.

The REC’s Monthly Jobs Outlook survey

The REC’s Monthly Jobs Outlook survey found that employers are frequently bidding against one another for engineering freelancers and Umbrella company contractors with IT skills. Of those surveyed, around 20 per cent of respondents believed that the death of permanent employees was imminent and the future really does belong in the hands of the contractor. Though this may make positive reading for the contractors, the harsh reality is that the UK jobs market is facing a huge skills gap problem.

Accordingly, the REC recently stated that three-quarters of EU employers (75 per cent) said that the primary reason for taking on agency workers is to gain ‘short-term access to key strategic skills’. And, with two in five employers planning to take on agency workers in the next 3 months, any available candidates best get ready to work.

With the general election just around the corner, many of the electorate will be calling for tighter regulation on immigration. However, if the demand for engineers and IT contractors continues to boom as predicted, employers will be left with little choice other than to look overseas for skilled workers.

How UK economy faces the skills shortages

So, what can the UK economy do to ensure that we are prepared to tackle a gap that is set to only get bigger?

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Energy believes that the battle against skills shortages needs to be addressed at the grassroots. Speaking at Semta Skills Awards, Matt Hancock pledged that more will be done to encourage young people into STEM apprenticeships, should the Conservative party be re-elected in the May election. He stated:

“Industry is hungry for high level skills, especially in STEM subjects […] We’ve put millions of extra capital investment into STEM teaching facilities and we are putting £185 million more into the teaching of these subjects.

“In the next parliament, we are committed to 3 million apprenticeships, but it is crucial that they are there in quality as well as quantity. The right skills policies are vitally important to inspire young people into careers that industry needs”

The current government has vowed to create three million more apprenticeships and further tackle the gender divide in with STEM sectors, particularly in engineering. Currently, only 13 per cent of science, tech, engineering and maths workers are women.

Regardless of this promise, more needs to be done to educate school children on apprenticeships on the whole. Recent research by that Adecco Group UK & Ireland revealed that nine in ten of all schoolchildren surveyed were unaware that an apprenticeship can lead to a career with the STEM industries.

Commenting on the need to plug the skills gap, REC chief executive Kevin Green advised employers to tap into talent pools that may have been overlooked. He said:

“We have 1m 50-64 year olds who have been made redundant in the UK, and that’s a huge amount of skill and experience that businesses could benefit from to help meet demand.”

The REC Jobs Outlook survey reported that 35 per cent of businesses are operating with ‘no capacity’ to take on more work and that 58 per cent have only ‘a little’ spare capacity. Therefore the increasing demand for skilled workers, permanent and contingency is eminent. The skills gap is a very real pressure looming over the UK economy, one in which needs to be addressed far sooner rather than later.

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