Lisa Clark

Lisa Clark, senior economic policy manager at Sheffield City Region

Tackling the problem of hard-to-fill vacancies

What are the reasons that hard-to-fill vacancies exist in the local labour market, and how can Local Enterprise Partnerships work together with candidates and employers to fill them?

That’s the question we at Sheffield City Region (SCR) have considered in depth, and have set out our response in a recent report, which has been written after extensive collaboration with businesses and jobseekers alike.

We know the problem of hard-to-fill vacancies isn’t one confined to the City Region. Nationwide, the average number of vacancies considered to be “hard to fill” is 33%, compared to 31% within SCR. But we also know that to reduce unemployment, and to give businesses here the help they need to grow and thrive, we need to make sure that people have the skills they need to find jobs and progress in their careers.

When setting out to look at this problem of hard-to-fill vacancies, we knew it was crucial to work with all those affected by the issue. So we spoke to more than 250 employees, and more than 250 representatives from the business community, asking them to engage with us through two questionnaires and six workshops.

In terms of attracting people to the region, responses generally showed that people want to live here, but felt there was a lack of perceived career opportunity.  Meanwhile, employers said they want to grow businesses, but claim they can’t attract people. There’s a sense of a tension, and a disconnect between these two perspectives, which needs to be resolved.

Employers were also vocal about the misalignment of the skills that people leave education with, compared to what industry requires. Curriculums are perceived to be outdated, and lacking the appropriate scope and depth. Equally, candidates felt that recent interviews had not given them the best opportunity to present their full skill set and they felt that transferable skills were overlooked by employers looking for a specific match.

Meanwhile, responses also showed that soft skills such as innovation, critical thinking and time management are key to employers, but not currently prioritised by young people.

Our report makes a raft of recommendations around six themes – to attract, to employ, to develop, to retain, to educate and to advise.

Companies such as McLaren and Boeing have chosen to locate here, which is boosting our reputation, but we still need to attract more jobseekers. We know that Sheffield City Region is a great place to live, work and be educated – but we need to demonstrate this desirability to others.

Once people are here we need to educate them, employ them, develop their skills and then retain them in the workforce – until they then change jobs and begin the cycle again, or perhaps retire and come back to mentor people at the start of the cycle.

This has to be done with everyone involved in the process, including schools and colleges, businesses, jobseekers and local authorities. And we’re doing all we can. For example, we’ve set up the SCR Jobs Board, where employers ranging from McLaren and Tesco to SMEs are finding the right candidates.

Together, we are making Sheffield City Region a place where we grab each opportunity and make the most of it.

For more information contact lisa.clark@sheffieldcityregion.org.uk or call 0114 220 3472