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Getting Started

Skills shortages – what’s the risk?

The UK’s skills gap is increasingly posing a challenge to growing businesses. How can they continue to attract the best talent?

Skills shortages – what’s the risk?

Unbeknown to the hundreds of Abba fans currently enjoying the spectacle of ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ at London’s O2 venue, event planner Shout About is sending out its own SOS for new talent to help its growth.

Co-founder Ben Gamble says the five-year-old firm, which finds venues for corporate clients as well as owning and operating events, is struggling to hire new sales executives.

“Instead of just finding off-the-grid locations for events - such as Victorian pumping stations - we are looking at taking out 20-year-plus leases on our own sites,” explains Ben. “We need more sales staff but the competition in the events industry makes it hard.”


Another growth firm in the less flamboyant world of accountancy is facing similar barriers in its ambitions to increase staff numbers.

“We are doing our five-year plan and automation is featuring heavily,” explains James Poyser, co-founder of online accountants inniAccounts and Provestor. “An aptitude to understand automation and how you harness it will be vital, but there are few people with these software skills.”

Such skill shortages are becoming increasingly common with a recent British Chambers of Commerce/Total Jobs report stating that 64% of firms are struggling to hire the talent they need. According to latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures there were 813,000 job vacancies in July to September. This is 34,000 fewer than the same period in 2018 but up from 750,000 in 2016.


The ONS said there were 44,000 vacancies in the information and communication sectors, 31,000 in financial and insurance activities and 80,000 in professional, science and technical. A recent Open University report1 revealed that 88% of firms had a shortage of digital skills with the Digital Marketing Institute noting that 74% of marketing companies face digital and soft skills gaps2.

“In the financial services and digital sector over the last year Brexit has had an impact on vacancies. We have seen EU talent leave and less come over. Generally, people have become more nervous and reticent about switching roles,” says Meeta Sahni, owner of recruiters The Maine Group. “In digital the number of roles being created is outnumbering the amount of people being trained. That really impacts growing firms.”

Crawfurd Walker, chief revenue officer at business advisors Elephants Child, agrees that finding the right talent is crucial in boosting both profits and value. 

“However recent high levels of employment combined with the uncertainty around Brexit is making finding the right talent an ever more difficult task,” he says. 


In such a tight labour market he explains that getting access to the right staff is not just about hiking salaries.

“It is also flexible working schemes for better work-life balance, improved career development programmes and attractive work environments. Businesses need to get better at communicating the benefits associated with their brands both to existing and potential employees,” he says. “Employers can also look to access talent from areas of the labour market they may have previously ignored such as part-time workers.” 


Meeta agrees branding is vital. “Be clear about what you do and why. It is particularly important to the next generation who are seeking more purpose in their careers,” she says. “In addition, make sure your campaigns over social media and on job platforms are consistent. Internally, look at upskilling your existing staff and use reverse mentoring with juniors working with senior employees to share tech and social media skills.”

Ben at Shout About says it has recently started working with a jobs platform provider which sorts through CVs of interested candidates for any vacancy. “They only send us the good ones which saves us time,” he says. “But we are sometimes much more creative and direct including approaching charity sellers in the street who we think have got the gift of the gab!”

The company also offers flexible hours and team social activities to attract talent. “We emphasise that we are young and creative and understand your individual circumstances,” says Ben.


James says his company uses flexi-hours and brand building to attract recruits. “We create a specific landing page on our website for each role with videos describing the job, our goals, development opportunities and our strategy. We talk about our brand and our reputation as forward thinkers using AI in our software,” he says. “But we recognise that we won’t meet our growth plan just by focusing on recruitment, we need to upskill existing staff. That means structured programmes on growing digital and people skills to help our people be the advisory accountants of the future. We have to get this right to drive our future expansion.”

1. ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’, June 2019

2. ‘Perpetual Evolution: The Interplay Of Talent and Technology in the Future Of Marketing’, The Economist Group in association with the Digital Marketing Institute (DMI). October 2019.

Where the opinions of third parties are offered, these may not necessarily reflect those of St. James’s Place.