Bridging the gap: the role of freelancers and contractors in solving the UK’s skills shortage

Skills Shortage

It has been well reported that the UK is the midst of a significant, and potentially disastrous, skills shortage. News reports crop up every couple of months informing us that the skills shortage list is increasing beyond what the country’s current workforce can cope with, as well as the anticipation of what negative effects this will have on the UK’s economy on a national and international scale.

A government report conducted in 2013 found that in the period 2011-2013 there were around 146,000 skills shortage vacancies in the UK, in comparison to just over 91,000 in 2011. With the number of skilled, qualified and experienced candidates for jobs in key sectors such as engineering, IT and construction seemingly on the decline, the problem is not difficult to see. But what about a solution?

Education

Education would be the obvious solution, but a long-term one. The absence of a real, robust nationwide apprenticeship scheme has been something that both young people and industries have criticised for some time now.

The 2014 Growth Through People report, commissioned by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), outlines a number of educational reforms that would routinely address the perceived lack of pathways into STEM subjects, as well as encouraging industry and education to work together to provide more integration between the two.

One of the key recommendations of the report is to facilitate employers to take a more active role in designing apprenticeships, ensuring that they provide students with real world skills and add value to the job market.  It is stressed that vocational training will become one of the most important factors in employers having the confidence to engage with younger candidates in strategic skilled sectors.

Freelancing – bridging the skills gap?

The lack of skilled workers in permanent roles in key industries means that businesses are unable to take advantage of a growing economy and it leads to shrinkage in the UK’s influence globally, with exports and GDP declining.  However, with educational reform being a long and drawn out process, how can we look to lessen the impact of this crisis in the short-term?

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), last year took a close look at how freelancers and contractors could be the answer that British businesses are looking for in closing that gap in a more immediate way.

Its main finding rests on the fact that freelancers provide a degree of agility that businesses in an ever-changing economy require. In a world where employers may want to benefit from highly skilled professionals but don’t necessarily want to commit to hiring someone on a permanent basis, freelancers allow business exactly this kind of flexibility.

With an estimated 1.4million freelancers now working in the UK, the community certainly represents a core pool of specialist skills that can provide support and consultancy to businesses that may not be in a position to permanently expand their staff.

It could well be that freelancers have one of the most significant frontline roles in holding back the damage that the skills shortage threatens, while the impact of educational reform grows and produces the next generation of highly-skilled professionals to aid the UK’s economic recovery.

Do you work in one of the key STEM industries? Have your services been more in demand as the skills shortage grows? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation with us on Twitter and our Facebook page.

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