Assessing skills shortages in the Cambridge region's labour pool

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To help inform policy discussions about developing skills in Cambridge and Peterborough, researchers examined skills shortages in the regional labour pool. They specifically examined four sectors: life sciences, information and communications, health and social work, and construction.

The share of hard-to-fill vacancies for professionals in the Cambridge region is much higher than nationally, but there is also a shortage of people with skills in low-level roles. Because employers in the Cambridge region do not provide the same amount of training as businesses in the rest of England, one potential solution would be for employers to provide more training to upskill the local workforce.

Background

Cambridge is a highly prosperous area with considerable job growth. As the economy of the Cambridge and Peterborough region continues to develop, there is a need to assess and understand the skills that present and future local labour markets need and where these skills are lacking. Such information will help inform policy discussion about developing skills at a local level.

Goals

Cambridge Ahead and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority asked RAND Europe to conduct a study examining the evidence on skills shortages in the regional labour pool. The study focused on four sectors that are particularly relevant to the region: life sciences, information and communications, health and social work, and construction.

Methodology

The research team's analysis focused on assessing the skills demand from the perspective of businesses. They analysed the results of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ Employers Skills Survey. Although the data are the latest available, issues affecting the changing political and socio-economic context, such as Brexit, should be taken into consideration when interpreting the survey results.

Findings

  • Two of the priority labour sectors for the Cambridge area – information and communications and life sciences – experience a higher rate of vacancies and shortages of skills than other parts of England. In the Cambridge area, 53 per cent of the life science sector establishments reported having available vacancies, compared with 27 per cent nationally. Across the sectors, information and communications has the highest share of skill shortages – 44 per cent – 11 percentage points higher than the rest of England.
  • The share of hard-to-fill vacancies for professionals in the Cambridge region is much higher than nationally. In all analysed sectors, excluding construction, over half of hard-to-fill vacancies were professional.
  • There is also a shortage of skills in low-level skilled roles. Employers in the Cambridge region report a higher unmet demand for low-level skills occupations than the rest of England.
  • Difficulty in meeting local demand was identified as predominantly the result of a low number of appropriately skilled applicants. The information and communications and life sciences sectors particularly felt this.

Recommendations

  • As further job growth is projected in professional roles, it is essential to address the challenge to maintain the supply of highly qualified workers. In addition, the demand for low-level skills is much higher in the Cambridge area than in the rest of England. Since these jobs are typically filled by people living locally, it is important to ensure there is an adequate supply of local low- and medium-skilled workers matching the demands of businesses.
  • The report’s findings show the main difficulty in filling much-needed vacancies is the low number of applications with the required skills. At present, employers in the Cambridge region do not provide the same amount of training as businesses in the rest of England. A potential solution would be for employers to provide more training to upskill the local workforce.
  • In order to gain a better understanding of the specific issues related to skills demand in the local area, further research is needed, such as surveying a broader range of local businesses and focusing on more specific industry sectors. For instance, further insight might be gathered from sources such as the NHS workforce census, Science Industry Partnership and Higher Education Statistics Agency.
  • Further beneficial information could be gained by investigating how the devolution deal for the Cambridge area could potentially encourage new skills initiatives and additional funding to deal with the skills demand.