Labour market guides: careers with skills shortages

Chef preparing dishes
Some jobs are better than others if you want employers fighting over you. We outline which types of workers are most in demand in the UK.

Employers find some types of jobs harder to fill than others. These are known as skills shortage areas. In theory, it may be easier to find work if there are fewer other applicants for the jobs you apply for, and employers could feel more pressure to offer a competitive salary. In practice, you will still need the right skills and a genuine interest in the job to get hired. What’s more, skills shortages can exist in areas that offer relatively low pay, such as driving or cleaning.

Many of the areas that have offered particularly good employment prospects over the past few years revolve around science, engineering, healthcare and, to some extent, IT, business and social work. Not all job areas with skills shortages require a university education or equivalent – for example, experienced chefs have been sought after.

However, skills shortages change over time. There’s no guarantee that an area that has a skills shortage when you are a teenager will still have one five years down the line.

From chefs to doctors, the roles in demand

The UK Visa Bureau’s shortage occupations list is a helpful starting point. Its actual purpose is to inform UK employers and potential immigrants what jobs can be filled by workers from outside the EU, but the information is useful to anyone interested in skills shortages.

Jobs on the list include:

  • numerous professional engineering roles
  • numerous healthcare roles, especially for experienced doctors
  • social workers in children’s and family services
  • various roles in visual effects and 2D/3D computer animation for film, television or video games
  • top-level ballet dancers, contemporary dancers and orchestral musicians
  • secondary school teachers specialising in maths, physics or chemistry
  • various roles relating to physics and geology
  • several senior-level roles in nuclear decommissioning and waste management
  • several roles relating to electricity transmission and distribution
  • actuarial roles in various industries
  • experienced high integrity pipe welders
  • several types of experienced chef.

Skilled tradespeople and machine operatives more sought after than professionals

Another source is the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)’s Employer Skills Survey, which is conducted every two years. This contains less information about specific jobs with shortages, but gives a broad-brush view of the situation in different industries and at different levels.

The most recent survey, conducted in 2017, found that jobs defined as skilled trades had the highest percentage of vacancies caused by skills shortages. In this category, the top three jobs with skills shortages were:

  1. chefs
  2. vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians.
  3. metal working production and maintenance fitters

The survey notes that skilled trades has been the area with the highest percentage of skills shortages for a number of years.

Machine operatives was the area with the second highest percentage of skills shortages, particularly in construction.

Jobs defined as professional had the third highest skills shortage problem. This category covers jobs for which a good deal of relevant education and training is required, such as a relevant degree and/or professional qualifications. Examples include doctors, solicitors, architects, accountants, nurses, teachers, social workers and professional-level engineers and IT workers. The survey doesn’t specify which particular jobs were most in demand but does note that the greatest shortages of professionals were in the manufacturing, construction, information and communications, business services and health and social work sectors.

Health, food and drink and other growth industries

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the industries with the biggest percentage growth in number of employees in 2017 and 2018 were:

  1. electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry
  2. real estate activities
  3. water supply, sewerage and waste
  4. professional, scientific and technical roles
  5. mining and quarrying.

Areas with falls in employment numbers included arts and entertainment, information and communication and construction.

This information comes from the ONS Annual Estimates of Employees from the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) 2018. The report looked at how many workers were employed by which broad types of industries and found that ‘between 2017 and 2018, the largest increase in employee estimates by industry has been in the professional, scientific and technical industry group (up 82,100, or 3.3%), followed by the wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (up 52,000, or 1.1%)

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