With two recent surveys highlighting a worsening skills shortage in the UK labour market, the Open University is calling for universities and businesses to work more closely together to upskill their workforces.

Last week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed a six per cent increase in the number of unfilled roles between December 2014 and December 2015, despite continued growth in employment; meanwhile, the latest CBI/Accenture Employment Trends Survey found that 52 per cent of the hiring decision-makers polled believe that developing and sustaining digital skills has taken on an added urgency.

The lack of suitably-skilled candidates is already impacting productivity, with engineering companies reporting a shortfall of 55,000 appropriately-skilled workers. The Open University cites research estimating that solving the skills shortage could generate a staggering £27bn a year by 2020, which could pay for 110 new hospitals or 1,800 new secondary schools.

The Open University wants to see greater emphasis on work-based education to address the skills deficit. Its Director of External Engagement, Steve Hill, said: “In most cases, the answer to this shortage is right under our noses – with up to 90 per cent of the current workforce still in work over the next decade. With the right training and up-skilling, these individuals can become the engineers, data scientists and high-skilled digital workforce the UK needs to compete on the world stage.”

In the meantime, since these sought-after skills represent core contractor disciplines, companies scouring the talent pool for the scarce skills they need may need to hire contracting professionals, such as those working through Umbrella Companies, if they wish to ensure business-critical projects are executed competently.

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