Occupational shortages in the UK labour market

Posted on Thursday, December 19, 2019 by Gradsouthwest TeamNo comments

An insight into occupational shortages in the UK labour market has been published by Prospects. Here we summarise their findings and provide insight for south west England.

Hard-to-fill positions are those where an employer has reported a vacancy as hard to fill if they found it difficult to fill for any reason. Vacancies that employers find hard-to-fill due to applicants lacking relevant skills, qualifications or experience are termed ‘skill-shortage vacancies’.

The top 12 hard to fill positions, by volume, in the south west are shown here, with the figures in brackets showing the UK-wide hard to fill / UK-wide skills shortage table positions:

  1. Nurses (1/1)
  2. Solicitors
  3. Medical practitioners (4/13)
  4. Programmers and software development professionals (2/2)
  5. Business and financial project management professionals
  6. Marketing associate professionals (9/8)
  7. Veterinarians (14/-)
  8. Sales accounts and business development managers (8/6)
  9. Legal associate professionals
  10. Managers and directors in retail and wholesale (11/-)
  11. Teaching and other educational professionals not elsewhere classified (n.e.c.) (-/14)
  12. Sports coaches, instructors and officials

UK wide and in the south west Nursing comes top of the shortage occupation lists, with Medical practitioners also appearing high on the lists. Similarly, Programmers and software development professionals appear near the top in the SW and UK-wide lists. These are clearly nation-wide occupational shortages.

The UK is not a simple labour market, however. There are many significant regional variations.

The SW region has a relatively small graduate labour market but has a shortage of solicitors and legal professionals, much the most serious in the UK in both roles.

Shortages of Marketing associate professionals are also more acute in the SW than in the UK.

Specific SW shortage occupations include: Business and financial project management professionals; Vets; Managers and directors in retail and wholesale; Teaching and other educational professionals n.e.c.; and Sports coaches, instructors and officials.

The very hardest professional-level vacancies to fill can be those that do not have a relatively large number of vacancies but an unusually large proportion of hard to fill vacancies, suggesting a specific issue with supply and demand.

All occupations on this list nationally were health, engineering, construction or IT roles, and this is in line with reports from the Bank of England and Chambers of Commerce, which consistently signal roles in these areas as a persistent recruitment issue. This certainly chimes with our experiences in the region.

The top 10 jobs for new graduates

HESA’s Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education 2016/17 show the top 10 jobs for new graduates from 2016/17 were as follows:

  1. Nurses
  2. Marketing associate professionals
  3. Medical practitioners
  4. Primary and nursery teachers
  5. Business and related associate professionals n.e.c. (including people with generic jobs titles)
  6. Programmers and software developers
  7. Finance analysts and advisers
  8. Human resources, recruitment industrial relations officers
  9. Chartered and certified accountants
  10. Welfare and housing associate professionals

All of these appear on the previous list of occupations reported by employers as having the most vacancies, a not unexpected finding but one that demonstrates the importance of new graduate entrants to the skilled labour market.

Employer Size

SMEs experience a particularly serious issue recruiting IT staff, recruitment and sales professionals and shortages of these sought-after professionals appear less intense at large businesses. This suggests that the larger firms may be outcompeting smaller ones for in-demand workers.

We certainly see this for Programmers and software development professionals in the south west with those graduates with these skills in high demand. This is the one occupational area where we have seen significant growth in advertised starting salaries recently.


There are serious skills shortages in the south west region and UK-wide.

At Gradsouthwest we see first-hand the difficulty employers have in finding the right recent graduates in many of these occupations.

SMEs need to make sure they are visible to graduates so that they can compete in the labour market. They need to articulate why it is great to work for an SME, and they need to offer competitive packages so not to lose out to larger employers.

For our part, we will continue to promote graduate roles in the region to highlight what is on offer to those students and graduates that want to work here – helping to retain the talent we already have in the region. We know recent graduates aren’t all that mobile – so we really can succeed in keeping talent if they just know where to find the jobs that are available in the SW. We will also endeavour to attract talent to the region by using our national each to bring talent that is mobile to the SW.

We will continue to work with educational establishments and others to enhance employability skills and labour market knowledge helping to reduce the numbers graduating who are not employment ready. By highlighting skills gaps and supporting work experience we can help the region’s employers have a greater pool of skilled talent to draw upon.

Further information

Find the full report here:


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