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Skills shortage affects 86% of firms trying to hire in Kent

By Chris Price

The uncertainty over Brexit had a limited affect on the jobs market but there remains a shortage of skilled labour in the county.

Nearly two thirds of respondents in Kent (64%) tried to hire in the second quarter of the year, up from 49% in the previous quarter.

Of those, 74% of the positions offered were permanent and 70% were full time, according the Quarterly Economic Survey carried out by Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.

The education sector is not producing people with the skills needed by employers, says University of Kent's Professor Richard Scase

The education sector is not producing people with the skills needed by employers, says University of Kent's Professor Richard Scase

It reflects the confident mood of employers in recent times. In the five years since May 2011, the number of people on unemployment benefits in the county has fallen by 15,615.

However, a record 86% of businesses said it was hard to find suitable applicants, up from 66% in the last three months of 2015. It’s the third time in four quarters the figure has tipped over 80%.

People in professional or managerial positions proved most difficult to fill, followed by skilled manual and technical staff.

However, 24% of all respondents struggled even to fill semi or unskilled jobs, which has risen from 4% in the last three months of 2014.

The number of companies trying to hire is increasing

The number of companies trying to hire is increasing

“Skills shortages continue to intensify,” said the Quarterly Economic Survey report.

“With a ‘new normal’ of 8 in 10 would-be-hirers struggling to find the right people, this reached a record 86% in Q2 and not just for the usual scarcity of managerial and professional staff.”

Prof Richard Scase, an economist at the University of Kent, said: “Skills shortages have been perennial for 20 to 30 years because we don’t have an educational system which can produce what we need.

“Teachers and parents have been obsessed with sending children to university but they are not coming out with the skills employers want.

More than four fifths of companies struggle to find the right people when hiring for a position

More than four fifths of companies struggle to find the right people when hiring for a position

“However, I do see that in the medium term there will be a decline in three-year university education and an increase in apprenticeship degrees. We will overcome the shortage but that will be over the next five to 10 years and not solve the immediate problem.”

James Gransby, partner at accountancy MacIntyre Hudson in Maidstone, said: “There does seem to be a skills shortage and that has been widely reported.

“Skills shortages have been perennial for 20 to 30 years because we don’t have an educational system which can produce what we need..." - Prof Richard Scase

“Coming out of the EU won’t help that situation because there will be a smaller pool of talent to choose from. That might get harder in the long term.

“It is something businesses should look to address as a key risk of Brexit.

“On the other hand, UK apprenticeships and vocational training could now see a resurgence as we look to the UK talent to plug those skills shortages.”

The Quarterly Economic Survey showed more firms had hired staff in the last three months, up eight points to 26%.

More businesses expected their number of employees to increase over the next three months, up five points to 31%.

“Perhaps more employers have been getting their heads around the new national living wage and maybe pensions auto-enrolment, too,” said the report.

A skills shortage in the construction sector is forcing firms to pay over the odds for the best staff.

Logic PM, a project management business based in Maidstone, has been able to hire four new people in the last four months. However, securing new staff has come at a cost, according to its boss.

Nick Baster with his team at Logic PM

Nick Baster with his team at Logic PM

“There’s a skills shortage out there so you end up paying a bit more for people than you anticipated,” said managing director Nick Baster, whose company finished the construction of a £700,000 new cafe for Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway last month.

“That’s the way of the world. It’s supply and demand. We made one person an offer and they accepted but then their business made a counter offer and they stayed.

"It is difficult to find the right people but we have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

Mr Baster said he expects difficulties hiring skilled staff to continue for “some time”.

However, the administration last month of major developers like Cardy, based in Canterbury, will provide some short term relief.

Red Eagle boss Wayne Hodgson

Red Eagle boss Wayne Hodgson said the skills shortage is keeping the recruitment industry busy

“Then we will get good people coming on the market but they will be signed up quite quickly.”

The demand for skilled staff is also increasing competitiveness in the recruitment industry.

“If we are recruiting for a specific role we have to work quickly in some cases because those staff are in high demand,” said Wayne Hodgson, managing director of Folkestone recruitment firm Red Eagle.

“When you find a new candidate you have to be quick because if you wait 24 hours to respond, they will have been picked up by another agency.”

“If you can be quick, you can get them out to companies before other agencies do.”


More from the Quarterly Economic Survey

Confidence in future profits and turnover weakens for Kent companies in run up to referendum

Rising raw material costs impacting firms in Kent

Jo James: Uncertain times after referendum but I’m sure we’ll rise to challenge

Chris Price: Let's hope signs of business nervousness do not turn into a standstill after the EU vote

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