Companies battle skills shortage in the east

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SKILLS shortages are hitting companies’ employment plans in the east of England.

The agency Manpower’s respected Employment Outlook Survey asks 2,100 employers whether they plan to expand or reduce workforces in the next economic quarter, expressing it as a positive or negative percentage. Its latest survey shows that nationally the jobs outlook has become positive at plus two per cent, but the east has moved from plus one to minus three per cent.

Jason Greaves, Manpower UK’s operations director, said the east’s employers now wanted to shed staff or freeze numbers but the region is seeing positive activity in design, energy, engineering, insurance, finance and in local authorities.

He added: “The twin evils of skills shortage and talent mismatch weigh heavily in the region. Employers are becoming more and more specific with their wish lists and there is a talent shortage of engineers and those with project management skills.”

Bury St Edmunds Chamber of Commerce chairman Andrew Denny, managing director of Denny Brothers, said East Anglia had stood up well against the downturn but his members now felt it was beginning to catch up with the region.

He added: “There is a shortage of engineers. In our experience we find it difficult to recruit, but once we recruit, they stay here.

“The problem is that because there has been so much economic uncertainty, businesses have not been expanding, therefore they’ve not been taking on trainees.

“The removal of statutory retirement age also introduces uncertainty. You used to know three years in advance when someone would retire and that was the time to take on a trainee. That is one of the reasons why youth unemployment has increased.”

Wednesday’s jobless figures reflect that. While all areas show increases in 18 to 24 year old Jobseeker Allowance claimants, Breckland’s have reached 8.6 per cent, which is 0.2 per cent higher than the national rate. At 830, it has 20 more claimants than in May 2009 when it last exceeded the national rate.

Adult claimants are also up with St Edmundsbury’s 1,765 its highest since 1,837 in September 2009. Mid Suffolk’s 1,269 is its highest since April 2009 while Breckland’s 2,536 and Forest Heath’s 1,031 are their highest for about a year.