Almost two thirds of businesses in the Engineering and Technical sector say that recruiting staff with the right skills will be a barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years, according to a survey published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in December.
From medical staff, particularly nurses, to engineers, IT specialists and construction workers the UK has had a skills gap for a number of years and has depended on EU migrant workers, such as engineers and construction workers from Poland to fill the gap.
The latest British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Quarterly Trends also revealed that almost three quarters of service sector firms (71%) struggled to hire the right workers throughout Q4 2017 – the highest figure on record.
The Brexit effect on the skills shortage
With unemployment at a 42-year low, arguably, the skills shortage situation has been made more difficult by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Since the Brexit decision, reportedly, fewer workers are willing to move to the UK and more EU workers have been leaving because of the continued uncertainty about their employment and personal security. Net migration to Britain fell to its lowest level in three years in the 12 months to the end of March 2017 and earlier this month it was reported that the UK had dropped down the league tables of desirable countries to move to.
In an effort to address the skills shortage and improve training, the Government imposed a skills levy, that came into force last year, when larger firms were required to pay an Apprenticeship Levy.
Yet this week the CBI criticised the levy, saying that the strategy aimed at improving the skills base was not working and that the levy had alienated businesses. CBI managing director argued: “We need a skills approach that lasts for 50 years, not five,”.
Whatever the pros and cons of various Government initiatives, any attempt to improve the UK skills base is likely to take a number of years before people are sufficiently well-trained and experienced to either join the workforce or progress up the career ladder.
Can AI fill the skills gap?
Any number of “experts” have predicted the demise of various jobs as technological advances make their skills redundant. McKinsey, for example, calculated in November last year that as many as 700 million people worldwide could be displaced from their jobs by 2030 due to technology.
However, it argues that there will be no shortage of demand for workers, only that the types of jobs available will change and people will find they need to retrain, adapt and become more skilled.
Hubspot recently speculated in a blog that the top 10 jobs at highest risk of being displaced by AI were telemarketers, bookkeeping clerks, compensation and benefits managers, couriers, proof readers, receptionists, computer support specialists, market research analysts, advertising salespeople and retail sales staff. Read the full blog here for the reasons why.
Those least at risk, according to the blog, are those who have people or creative skills and the top 10 of these were HR managers, sales managers, marketing managers, PR managers, event planners, writers, software developers, editors, graphic designers and CEOs.
The ability for AI to act as a substitute for basic skill level jobs in such areas as manufacturing production lines or for delivery services is plainly obvious, but as for the rest it will depend on the sophistication, safety and reliability of the technology.
For example, with driverless cars, there have been a number of collisions reported although it is early days yet, and robots will have to be a good deal more sophisticated and “human” before we use them to provide care for elderly relatives.
As for CEOs, they are safe for now at least but could even their days eventually be numbered?