British firms expect workforce to grow despite Brexit uncertainties

Despite Brexit concerns, hundreds of business leaders expect their workforce to grow in the year ahead, according to a new report.

45% of businesses across the UK expect to grow their workforce in the coming year. - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
45% of businesses across the UK expect to grow their workforce in the coming year. – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The findings, which surveyed 350 executives employing around one million people, found that 45% of businesses across the UK expect to grow their workforce in the coming year, with confidence highest among SME employers (46%).

However, the annual CBI report revealed there are Brexit concerns weighing on larger firms, with optimism about adding new jobs at its lowest among businesses more exposed to the uncertainties posed by the UK leaving the EU.

Firms are still reporting access to skills as the most significant threat to the UK’s labour market competitiveness, with 83% stating it is a worry (up from 79% in 2017).

With a new immigration system due to replace free movement of people when the UK leaves the EU in March, six in ten firms are concerned about access to enough labour and 59% see the lack of ability to move UK workers across the EU in future years as a threat.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “Britain’s job market is in good health, but this survey also shows a worrying trend that there aren’t enough sufficiently skilled people to fill the number of job vacancies.

“It’s encouraging to see firms across the country investing in training their staff and helping them develop new skills. But this investment alone is not the silver bullet that will meet all our needs. Business and the government need to plug the skills gap and champion the flexible labour market on which our economic strength relies, to ensure investment continues to flow in.”

Skills of the future?

The report follows research published by EEF, which shows a clear shift in the direction manufacturing employers are looking to ensure they have the specialist skills they will need in the future.

It revealed that almost three-quarters of companies (72%) are planning to recruit apprentices compared to 66% in 2014. But, by contrast, the number now planning to recruit graduates has fallen to 34% compared to 66% in 2014. This is due to the vital need to meet skills shortages at craft and technician level, as well as bring fresh young talent into the sector.

Diversity is high on the agenda

Encouragingly, nearly nine in ten businesses see a diverse and inclusive workforce as important or vital to their future success.

A majority have also reported they have taken action to increase workforce diversity, by improving progression opportunities (62%), training for line managers (55%) and introducing flexible working opportunities (54%).

The result for firms is an increased ability to attract and retain people, an increase in skills and capabilities, as well as increased levels of engagement.

Nearly all firms are reportedly taking action to reduce the gender pay gap (93%) and improve gender diversity at all levels of businesses.