If unemployment rates are at a 17 year high, and youth unemployment (16-24 year olds) especially has risen to 991,000 or 21.3%, then how can it be that businesses are struggling to find talent?  Perhaps businesses are being too fussy, or maybe even a higher proportion of the young demographic are unemployable.  Surely not, you ask?  What are the factors that lead so many apparent experts in recruitment to the conclusion that talent is much scarcer, even though statistically there are many more available candidates desperate for employment?

Supply and demand.  For the most part, employment is a self-regulating market. Since the industrial revolution we have seen examples of how huge sections of society follow the demand which is created by commerce and industry.  In the 1800’s millions of people moved from working the land, to working in factories.  Re-skilling a workforce by means of education now means anticipating demand for engineers, doctors, scientists and every other profession.  Right now, there is a huge over-supply of law-graduates, and not nearly enough trainee lawyer positions with law firms to accept them all.  There just isn’t the demand. So is that it?  The skills of the available and unemployed workforce don’t match the needs of employers?  Partly, I’d say, but isn’t it the responsibility of employers themselves to give experience and skills to young employees?  Despite efforts to reverse it, there are still thousands fewer apprenticeship places in the UK, than for the last 60 years.  Apprenticeships not only educate young workers, but also give them invaluable on-the-job training, and produce a genuinely skilled workforce.  Apprenticeships needn’t only be in traditional skills like building and engineering, but can also be in IT, games development, journalism, sports and in most other sectors.

Location location, location.  Is this a London thing?  It certainly seems to be the case that there are many unfillable jobs in the capital, whilst the opposite is true in many UK regions. Should the jobs relocate to where the candidates are, or vice-versa?  You might think that’s impossible, but it’s increasingly the case that jobseekers simply cannot afford to live in London (especially for unpaid, or low paid intern jobs). It has simply become unsustainable to locate so many businesses in the Greater London area.  The rules of supply and demand may dictate that it’s businesses which have to relocate.  We’ve already seen measures in some government departments, and the BBC, to de-centralise and relocate from the capital.

Volume of jobs.  The Alljobs Online Recruitment Index has monitored the volume of jobs across the UK’s biggest websites for the past 11 years.  The Index peaked in September 2007 (2,357.15), immediately before the world banking crisis began, and reached its lowest point in December 2009 (577.03).  Right now, the Index stands at 1017.67, and represents 456,765 vacancy adverts on our ten monitored job boards, in the last week alone.  So whilst unemployment hits a record level, there are indeed hundreds of thousands of available jobs.  In real terms these represent thousands of employers who have salaries they want to spend on suitable staff.

This is where the professional recruitment industry steps in.  It’s not our job to create vacancies, or to train individuals.  It’s our job to match and bring together jobs, employers and candidates.  It’s also our job to advise and consult with employers and potential employees on how they can make themselves more matchable; flexibility on salary, location, required skills, training etc.  In uncertain times, which these certainly are, everyone is feeling the pinch.  Optimism and confidence is low, which in turn makes everyone feel far less able to compromise.  Why take a low paying job, when you have urgent bills to pay? Why invest in training young employees, when they may not be around for long?

Confidence, or the lack of it, not only affects the financial markets and share prices.  It has a significant bearing on the circulation of individuals in the jobs market.  In the current market, the jobs are there, and the candidates are there.  The crucial missing ingredient is confidence.  The financial crisis of the past 4 years has led to a crisis of confidence in the employment market.  For me, the way forward is a collective leap of faith. 

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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