An opinion piece by the Regional Skills Partnership Manager, Sian Lloyd Roberts
The last two years have been challenging for everyone from the pandemic. It has substantially changed the entire employment market and no sector has been unaffected. As we start to emerge from the pandemic's impact on the region, what will the labour market look like this year?
The North Wales Regional Skills Partnership has played a key role in providing insight into labour market trends in the region, these trends enable employers to be prepared for the upcoming year.
Last year, the biggest fear for employers and employees was mass redundancies and unemployment, as sectors struggled to navigate their way through the pandemic challenges. However, 2022 is looking very different.
If you look at the headlines and news, you could be forgiven for thinking that the labour market is in good health – with jobs at their highest levels ever, and a record number of vacancies across all sectors of the economy. In North Wales, the numbers of vacancies have increased by a whopping 140% since pre-pandemic levels and are at an all-time high. These are vacancies across all occupational roles and sectors, with the highest vacancy rates across Health & Social Care and Tourism & Hospitality roles.
However, whilst we see that the predicted mass unemployment has been averted in this sector, we are now in the grip of two very different crises – the participation gap and growing labour shortages.
In Wales, the labour force reduced by 40-50,000 people in 2021. We have fewer employees available in the labour market and we have seen a loss of skilled staff in many sectors. With Covid-19 offering individuals a new perspective on life, some people have decided to switch careers, or leave the workforce entirely (early retirement in over 50s), creating a loss of knowledge and experience.
At the same time, employers are facing labour shortages and recruitment problems on a scale that hasn’t been seen before in the region. There are currently fewer unemployed people, but the labour supply cannot keep up with the labour demand. These shortages could hold back economic recovery in the region
Digital Skills are more important than ever:
One of the main skills in demand by most employers is Digital skills. The pandemic has transformed how we work and forced us to become exclusively digital overnight. The skill is growing across all sectors and has exposed gaps in areas of basic IT skills, coding, web development, social and digital marketing, cyber security and development of apps. Educational providers in the region, have been responding to this challenge with short bespoke courses to upskill the current workforce. Regardless of the pandemic, Digital skills will be crucial for the workforce as we head towards a much more digital future.
Green Jobs are on the rise:
Covid-19 highlighted the choice between two possible recovery pathways: one which is a low carbon, and one that locks into catastrophic climate change. The low carbon transition will require adapting and changing existing sectors and industries and creating new occupations requiring new skills. From retrofitting skills in the construction industry to the creation of wind turbines on wind farms, there will be a need to upskill and reskill our current and future workforce.
In North Wales, we are well placed to take advantage of new low carbon technologies with investments in tidal, wind and nuclear power and an injection of Growth Deal funding that will create just shy of 1,000 new jobs in the region.
Leadership and Management remains on top:
A skill that has not changed as a result of the pandemic, is Leadership & Management, along with skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and interpersonal communication skills. These remain a key future focus for businesses across the region, which has been key as employers have navigated through unprecedented times.
What can employers do?
As we’re experiencing the tightest labour market in decades, it’s clear that employers will have to work even harder in 2022 to both find and keep staff. This means an increased focus on job quality, fair wages and advertising jobs as flexible as possible, which will help draw more people into the labour market, such as older workers, disabled people and parents.
Another key takeaway for employers is to invest in staff development and skills. Upskilling the current workforce and creating internal progression opportunities has never been so important. This will not only broaden the range of candidates employers can attract, but it will also address skills gaps by training existing staff. Businesses should anchor upskilling and workforce investment as a core business principle and tap into programmes such as the Personal Learning Accounts and apprenticeships to plug their skills gaps and demands.
By creating a culture of continuous learning, employers can create a more agile, hybrid workforce that is the key to reacting effectively to the changing business environment and new market opportunities as they appear.
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