At a time when the UK has more vacancies than people registered as unemployed, the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) has written to ministers outlining a three-point action plan which the organization says will be necessary to cope with the “massive numbers” of vacancies to be filled.

One of the three proposals concerns the “urgent” reform of the Shortage Occupation List, the government registry that facilitates the obtaining of visas in the United Kingdom for specific occupations and skills from abroad.

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at BCC, said: “The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) needs to be reformed to allow sectors in urgent need of skills to get what they need.

“The SOL is not currently fit for purpose and should be more flexible, so it supports firms experiencing a national recruitment crisis. Recruitment difficulties have been at record highs for a year.

“There are 1.3 million unfilled jobs in our economy and now fewer people in the workforce than before the pandemic. This is holding back productivity and growth, and employers are at their wits’ end. It is putting livelihoods at risk and damaging the economy.”

“The Government must reform the SOL criteria to include more jobs at more skill levels to give firms breathing space to invest in their workforce.”

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The other two proposals submitted to the government are:

  1. for policies to encourage firms to find new ways of unlocking pools of talent – by investing more in training their workforce, adopting more flexible working practices and expanding use of apprenticeships
  2. for Government help to enable employers to invest in staff training by reducing upfront costs and by providing training-related tax breaks.
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The coalition further urged the ministers after its latest recruitment outlook survey of more than 5,700 companies showed that companies’ difficulties in finding the right staff remained at record levels.

More than three-quarters of businesses (76%) reported difficulty in hiring, with construction, manufacturing and manufacturing, logistics and hospitality being the hardest hit, although the report added:

“All sectors are facing significant challenges. With rising costs of doing business, only 28% had increased their investments in the past three months, compared to just 19% for small businesses”.

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Gratton further added:

“Businesses remain under huge pressure to fill jobs, but record levels of recruitment difficulty are showing no signs of improvement. Solutions are urgently needed, so that firms can keep their doors open throughout these tough times.

“Employers cannot wait for a new prime minister (to replace the recently-resigned Boris Johnson) before this is sorted. Shortages are impacting not only on their ability to service order books but also on the morale and wellbeing of their people.”

“The economic challenge we are facing is huge and unless we start to fill the hole caused by 1.3 million vacancies, we cannot get back to growth.”

The call for the government to step up comes as part of the growing labour shortage across various crucial sectors in the country.