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Could a shortage of staff de-rail a recovery?

Older readers may remember the TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff and, in particular, the catchphrase uttered by Yosser Hughes. “Gizza job. Go on, gizza job. I can do that.”

Forty years later could we be about to see a complete role reversal? Could employers be standing plaintively outside their shop, office or factory saying, “Want a job? Come on, mate, you can do this.”

As the pandemic unwound we heard plenty of tales of woe from the hospitality sector. Pubs, bars and restaurants were ready to reopen but were unable to do so. They simply couldn’t find enough staff, with widespread reports that up to 20% of workers had left the sector.

With “Freedom Day” now having arrived there are stories of yet more staff shortages. There are pictures of empty supermarket shelves in all the papers, apparently caused by a shortage of delivery drivers. There are warnings of cancelled operations and missed diagnoses because of a lack of NHS staff.

The recent culprit was the “pingdemic”, the results of the Government’s test and trace app forcing so many people to self-isolate. That, presumably, will be sorted out, but is there a longer term problem? Could a shortage of staff – and, in particular – skilled staff, de-rail our economic recovery?

In the manufacturing sector 38% of manufacturers reported problems finding staff with the right skills before the pandemic: that figure has now risen to 65%. Problems also remain in the service sector: while the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index shows a high level of optimism, small firms are struggling to meet demand because of staff shortages.

This seems unlikely to change any time soon. The pandemic has made people increasingly aware of their work/life balance and the long hours, night-time and weekend working that much of the service sector demands is simply no longer seen as attractive.

Research by Broadbean Technology, the world’s largest network of jobs boards, showed that overall job applications in the UK fell 24% between May and June of this year. This came despite vacancies being up 10% in the same period, illustrating the mismatch between the supply and demand for workers.

However many incentives, grants or support packages the Chancellor unveils businesses can do nothing without staff. Employers will need to be more creative with remuneration packages and embrace flexible and home working much more than they have previously done. We as consumers may need to modify our behaviour as well, accepting that things we may previously have taken for granted are no longer available. Want to eat out at 10pm? It may mean sitting in the car with a takeaway…

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