The other parts of the UK economy that could soon face labour shortages

·7-min read
A lorries arrive at the Port of Dover in Kent. Hauliers travelling to England from outside the UK for visits lasting more than two days will be tested for coronavirus from April 6. Hauliers, including drivers and crew of heavy goods vehicles and vans, will need to be tested within 48 hours of arriving and then every three days. Picture date: Tuesday April 6, 2021. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Britain's haulage and logistics industry faces acute staff shortage after an exodus of European lorry drivers, according to lobby group Logistics UK. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

Fears have been growing over the long-term economic impact of the jobs crisis as a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact of Brexit create sectoral staff shortages, despite vacancies soaring.

Job opportunities are swelling in several regions across the UK, with more postings stretching from lorry drivers, manufacturing workers to bartenders and waiters. 

Recruitment firm, Reed recruitment added 275,000 roles in May alone — a 26% month-on-month (MoM) increase and a 237% year-on-year increase. While vacancies increased across all regions, London saw an 18% rise in job numbers in May compared to April and had the largest volume of postings across all regions, with 57,100 jobs added.

According to a KPMG survey and online job placement agency Adzuna, the number of workers available to fill job vacancies declined at the quickest pace since 2017.

Read more: Demand for workers rises at fastest pace for more than 23 years

Staff shortages worsened for the third month in a row, with recruiters citing pandemic uncertainty and the furlough scheme weighing on the availability of permanent candidates.

The jobs market "seems to be firing on all cylinders" KPMG partner Claire Warnes said. "But the deterioration in staff supply intensified this month, this is a worrying trend."

Watch: Staff shortages across hospitality sector blamed on Brexit

Read more: UK reopening sees 1.3 million people taken of furlough

It comes as UK unemployment is expected to rise to at least 5.5% this year as millions of workers come off chancellor Rishi Sunak's furlough scheme.

Some 1.3 million Brits were taken off the government’s furlough scheme in March and April as the UK economy started to progress through its roadmap out of lockdown, data from HM Treasury showed.

As the UK economy reopens, consumer demand increases and business struggle to recruit more staff, these are the vital sectors that are facing shortages: 

Lorry drivers

Britain's haulage and logistics industry faces acute staff shortage after an exodus of European lorry drivers, according to lobby group Logistics UK. 

A Logistics UK study shows 29% logistics firms anticipate they will be unable to fill vacancies for HGV drivers this year, while a further one in seven (14.5%) expect long delays before filling a role. The Logistics Report 2021 also identified that staff shortages are expected across a range of operational roles in 2021, including fitter, mechanic and technician vacancies.

The group said the recruitment of drivers is an "extreme barrier" to the recovery of close to one in 10 (9.8%) logistic businesses.

Industry associations and leading UK freight firms have also said the pandemic put additional strain on the sector which was already hit by Brexit rules on immigration. 

Additionally, COVID has created a backlog of driving tests, with thousands of potential drivers sidelined. 

The sector has urged the government to priorities driver tests so it can clear the backlog and have new drivers, as well as adding lorry drivers to the Occupation Shortage List

The government's Occupation Shortage List sets out jobs in supply across the UK, for which there aren't enough British workers and migrants are needed to fill the roles. 

Watch: What could scrapping EU labour rights mean for UK workers?

Healthcare

NHS staff, social and care workers have been a source of national pride as they risked their lives to save millions of Britons during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Staff shortages left the NHS vulnerable to the COVID pandemic, the Health Foundation has said. Workforce shortages are a "critical barrier" to increasing NHS capacity, and are reportedly a key reason why the Nightingale field hospitals have not been fully mobilised despite the intense pressure on health services.

But, the healthcare sector has been riddled with many issues long before the coronavirus crisis, amid staff shortages due to Brexit, tight immigration restrictions, poor workforce planning and pay rise rows. 

Figures showed over 22,000 EU nationals left the NHS since the EU referendum in 2016. 

Official government data indicates, that in 2015/16, 11% of those joining the NHS were EU nationals (counting those for whom a nationality was known). This had fallen to 8% in 2017/18, and in 2019 to 7%.

In 2017/18, 12.8% of nurses leaving the NHS were EU nationals, up from 9% in 2015/16. This fell to 11% in 2019.

However, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel as applications to nursing courses in England rose by 17% last year compared to 2019.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said doctor staff numbers are "lagging behind" what is required to consultant activity within the healthcare services, as demand for consultant care grows at a faster pace. 

"Given the length of time it takes to train a consultant — 12 to 15 years depending on the specialty — immediate action needs to be taken now to grow the workforce," a BMA report said. "Delay now will impact the NHS and its ability to deliver timely access and effective services to patients in future.

Nightclubs

Nightclubs and bars in the UK could face trouble reopening as planned following an exodus of security staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many workers were forced to find work elsewhere after Britain shuttered the industry a year ago, while some non-UK nationals are believed to have returned to their home nations due to uncertainty over COVID-19 and Brexit.

According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), over a quarter of the UK’s total security workforce were non-UK nationals in 2018. Industry officials believe that over half of the vacancies in the sector may be left unfilled, the UK Door Security Association (UKDSA) said.

Taken in Toronto, Ontario
According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), over a quarter of the UK’s total security workforce were non-UK nationals in 2018. Photo: Getty

Agriculture 

Farming unions have raised the alarm over potential staff shortages in the sector, despite the UK government's decision to extend its Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) scheme. 

The SWP scheme allows 30,000 visas for temporary farmworkers to enter the UK for a maximum of six months.

While the scheme saw pilot numbers rise, it will not be enough to meet the estimated 70,000-80,000 picking and packing roles available in the horticultural sector, unions said. 

The sector has been hit by several factors, including Brexit, seasonal staff shortages, the pandemic and high visa costs to get workers to come to the UK. 

In April, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ended its "Pick for Britain" campaign launched in April 2020 to recruit British workers on farms. 

Hospitality

Experts have have warned if the jobs shortages in the hospitality continue, it could derail the recovery of the sector which accounts for over 80% of the economy.

UK pubs and restaurants in particular have blamed both the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit for staff shortages across the industry. The problem has become particularly acute since indoor dining resumed last month as part of the next stage of Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Prior to Brexit, over 30% of hospitality workers across the UK were European. In London, the proportion was more than half. Brexit and COVID have meant many of those workers have returned to their home countries.

The industry has called on the government to relax immigration rules to allow low-skilled workers from abroad to work in bars and restaurants across the country.

Meanwhile pro-Brexit Wetherspoons (JDW.L) boss Tim Martin also called for more liberal immigration rules to plug the skills gap in the hospitality sector.

Watch: Brexit-supporting Wetherspoons boss calls for more EU migration