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It’s Tough going for UK Businesses, Finds the OU’s 2022 Business Barometer

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According to The Open University’s Business Barometer 2022, published in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce, UK organisations are experiencing the knock-on effect of ongoing skills shortages and recruitment challenges.

The OU’s annual report provides a temperature check on the UK skills landscape and found more than three quarters (78%) are seeing reduced output, profitability or growth as a result of the skills shortages.

It further revealed the effect the skills shortage is having on staff morale and wellbeing with almost three-quarters (72%) of organisations saying the impact increases workload on other staff.

This statistic has crept up dramatically year on year, when only 56% of respondents from 2021’s report claimed their staff were experiencing additional pressure.

To address the problem, more than half (52%) of large organisations will increase investment in staff training over the next year, compared to 47% of SMEs.

Businesses are having to turn down work

The knock-on effect of these shortages is also impacting company growth as 28% of businesses say they have had to turn down work or are not able to bid for work due to their staff shortage.

The report also revealed more than two-thirds (68%) of SMEs are currently facing skills shortages. This rises to 86% of large organisations, in stark comparison to last year’s report where almost a quarter (24 per cent) believed that finding staff with the right skillset was the single biggest challenge facing businesses.

Organisations reported they were feeling the full impact of complex socio-economic issues such as Covid-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and rising business costs – all feeding into the skills shortage.

Comparisons of the long-term strategic approaches from small and large organisations

But while 9 in 10 of large organisations are looking at a long-term strategic approach to skills gaps and have a written plan to address this, only 43% of micro organisations (with fewer than 10 employees) said they have some form of plan to address workforce issues.

Similarly, more than half (53%) of large organisations will increase investment in staff training over the next year, compared to 39% of micros, showing that large organisations are currently better equipped to tackle recruitment challenges, despite reporting larger skills gaps.

The OU has partnered with the British Chambers of Commerce for the first time for its 2022 Business Barometer report.

It is based on a survey of 1,300 employers, conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce, and is an annual temperature check on the UK’s business landscape across a multitude of different UK nations, regions and sectors.

Viren Patel, Director of the Business Development Unit at the OU commented:

Our Business Barometer report highlights the need for employers to take a long-term strategic approach to addressing the skills gaps and that it’s more important than ever to take a proactive view on employees’ skills.

The report also shows that recruitment is tougher than ever and that places a focus on growing talent from within and opening up opportunities for hidden talent both inside and outside the organisation.

Critically, staff seem to be under more pressure than ever, looking at last year’s report, an increased amount of employers admit that the skills shortage is increasing their teams’ workload and wellbeing.

Through The Open University’s work with employers, we’ve seen how education can make a huge difference to workforce impact and diversity. Education is a huge enabler and has a vital role to easing and solving the skills shortage. If we can harness the ambitions of our people who deliver products and services, then it’s a win-win for all.

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, comments:

Skills shortages are worsening, and the country can ill afford this drag on the economy as we recover from the pandemic and grapple with the impact of geo–political events.

We need an agile skills system that can respond quickly to the evolving needs of businesses, supporting the transition to a more digital, automated, and net zero workplace and giving firms the confidence to boost investment in training and development.

Planning for skills has never been more important and it’s time for employers, training providers and policy makers to work together to ensure the skills system delivers for individuals, businesses, and the economy.

Survey methodology

The survey was conducted online by the British Chambers of Commerce between 11 and 29 April. There were 1,310 organisations from all business sectors, sizes, and UK regions and nations that completed the survey online through the BCC’s in-house survey platform.

Headline summary data have been weighted to better reflect the split between SMEs and large organisations in the general UK business population.

To see the results visit the Business Barometer 2022 report.