The government should update the shortage occupation list and align its policies for immigration and education to help tackle skills shortages, according to the CBI.
Lord Bilimoria, president of the business lobby group, is expected to outline the CBI’s recommendations for addressing staffing gaps at the Recruitment Employment Confederation’s (REC) annual conference, including proposals for reforming the apprenticeship levy and making it easier for overseas workers with in-demand skills to relocate to the UK.
He is expected to discuss a “perfect storm” of factors that have exacerbated skills shortages. These include workers from overseas returning to their home countries because of Brexit, the pandemic, and the introduction of the points-based immigration system preventing employers from filling gaps with staff from abroad.
Lord Bilimoria, the founder of the Cobra beer brand, will outline two things the UK government could do to address the problem “straight away” – updating the shortage occupation list to include more roles employers are struggling to recruit for, including butchers, bricklayers and welders; and aligning the UK’s immigration and skills policies by using the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the National Skills Fund to help workers gain skills for jobs on the shortage occupation list.
He will say: “It’s really important to stress – workers from overseas aren’t, and shouldn’t be, our only response to labour shortages. Investing in skills here, too, is vital. It’s not an either/or choice. We must do both to ensure our firms have the access to people they need to succeed.”
But organisations must first try to help themselves, Lord Bilimoria will say, by investing in innovation and technology and recruiting from a wider talent pool.
“As a starting point, this means opening up new routes into business, whether it’s a new apprentice scheme or widening access for candidates with technical qualifications,” he will say.
“And since Covid – we know so many are innovating, like law firms introducing virtual shadowing schemes during lockdown so junior lawyers could still access training and opportunities.”
Meanwhile, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has held emergency talks with retailers and logistics groups because a shortage of lorry drivers threatened to leave gaps on supermarket shelves.
Potential solutions understood to have been discussed included relaxing restrictions on drivers’ working hours, increasing capacity for HGV driving tests, putting HGV drivers on the shortage occupation list, and local training to help increase the number of drivers.
Trade body the Road Haulage Association is among the organisations calling for HGV drivers to be added to the shortage occupation list.
Chief executive Richard Burnett said earlier this month: “The upturn in the economy since Covid-19 is increasing demand across supply chains and the reopening of non-essential retail outlets and parts of the hospitality sector is making the situation even worse.
“The pandemic also resulted in the loss of about 12 months of driver training and testing. The long-term ineffectiveness of apprenticeships for lorry drivers and the general hostility from authorities and government is also unhelpful for recruiting and retaining drivers.”