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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Wanted: Somebody... Anybody?

Remember unemployment? Now many jobs go unfilled
Thousands of job vacancies are going unfilled in the UK, which has led the government to consider a new wave of immigration. But where are Britain's skills shortages?

The government has floated the idea of relaxing Britain's immigration rules in response to a growing skills shortage.

Home Office minister Barbara Roche says Britain is facing a demographic time-bomb because of its ageing population. By 2050, a quarter of its citizens are expected to be over 65 years old.

Shortage occupations include:
Occupational therapists
Veterinary surgeons
Source: DfEE, Overseas Labour Service
This could be disastrous for the economy, which is already suffering from labour shortages in a number of industries.

Although the Department for Employment cannot put a figure on how many job vacancies are unfilled because of skills deficiencies, a recent survey found one in four employers had difficulty finding staff.

New research by the CBI found firms in the business and professional sectors, such as accounting, computer services, market research and legal services, were suffering from skills shortages.

A third of white collar employers questioned in the CBI's quarterly survey of service industries, said labour shortages were likely to hinder investment plans.

But which industries are being hit hardest?

The prognosis is not good for doctors

  • Health service

    Since 1997, the number of nurses on the national register has declined by more than 14,000. A July report by the Kings Fund healthcare charity said there were currently a record 17,000 vacancies unfilled.

    Earlier this month, the NHS said it was to draft in 50 nurses from China because of a staffing shortage. Last week, the government announced a wider plan to recruit doctors from Europe, Australia and North America.

  • Education

    In January, the Department for Education said there were 2,660 vacancies in the education field, although independent reports suggest the number is far higher.

    There is an increasing emphasis on using supply teachers. Research by the BBC earlier this month found that 29% of the 8,600 teachers currently employed by supply agencies are foreign nationals.

    Teacher and pupil
    Many supply teachers are from overseas

  • Computing and IT

    Such is the pace of the communications revolution, by 2003, an estimated 80,000 vacancies could be left unfilled because of skills shortages, according to a recent report commissioned by Andersen Consulting.

    Among the most sought-after workers are those with internet skills, such as software engineers for Java and Java Script, DHTML and Visual Basic.

    The shortage is already so acute that some employers, such as Ridgeway, a multimedia company based in Reading, Berkshire, have offered 1,000 to any member of the public who can suggest a suitable employee.

  • Construction industry

    The housing boom and Lottery-funded millennium projects have boosted the value of work by the UK construction industry by an average of 1.75% a year since 1996.

    Chinese computer student
    The future of the British workforce? A Chinese computer student
    Research by merchant bank Robert Fleming says that forecast is set to double. But Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, says there will not be enough building service engineers, civil engineers and construction managers.

  • Aircraft engineers

    The booming air transport sector is suffering from a dearth of licensed engineers according to the Royal Aeronautical Society. The society last year reported that growth in the airline industry will likely be "severely limited" by the lack of qualified workers.

  • Clinical psychologists

    Every month, about 250 vacancies for clinical psychologists are advertised, says Adrian Skinner, director of clinical psychology at Harrogate NHS Trust.

    "The figure is high considering there are only 3,500 working in the profession, and the majority of health trusts will have a chronic problem in filling vacancies," he says.

    Heath trusts have taken the interim measure of recruiting from abroad, but a 50% increase in post-graduate training course places is likely to ease the squeeze.

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    See also:

    11 Sep 00 | UK Politics
    Green card 'may solve skills shortage'
    07 Sep 00 | Health
    NHS drafts in Chinese nurses
    21 Jul 00 | UK Politics
    Migrants 'benefit UK economy'
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