Job vacancies are returning to pre-downturn levels; however, a new report suggests that a worrying shortage of skilled recruits could hobble further recovery.

The new Employer Skills Survey from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) polled over 90,000 employers and found compelling evidence that the labour market is recovering robustly from the recession. Job vacancies climbed to 559,600 between March and July 2013 – 45% higher than in 2009.

The overall figures conceal a more perturbing trend, however, which could well result in skilled Umbrella Company Employees with the requisite knowledge and experience finding themselves spoilt for choice when it comes to new contracting opportunities. Over the same period, vacancies for the most in-demand and under-available skills – the so-called ‘skills shortage vacancies’ – almost doubled.

According to the survey, skills shortage vacancies – chiefly, roles requiring STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths) – now account for well over one-fifth of all openings.

Commenting on the findings, the CBI’s director for employment and skills, Neil Carberry, said that the gaps in these areas of expertise needed to be addressed urgently. He said that access to high-quality apprenticeships must be expanded, adding: “To equip young people with the knowledge they need, there must also be a sea change in the quality of careers advice in schools so they are more aware of the opportunities and rewards of working in key sectors which face skills shortages.”

UKCES commissioner Douglas McCormick urged businesses to start “planning their talent pipeline now” or face being unable to fulfil contracts due to an absence of skilled staff.

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