Work experience key to tackling skills shortages

December, 2019

Work experience is key to tackling skills shortages, according to analysis by HECSU Prospects published in a new report on Skill Shortages in the UK

The Universities UK agency responsible for student and graduate employability analysed data in the government's Employer Skills Survey 2017 to identify the main industries and occupations facing skills shortages in the UK and why so many vacancies are proving so hard to fill.

Of just under 309,000 vacancies in 169 different professional occupations, employers found it hard to fill a third. Vacancies that employers found hard to fill, specifically because applicants lacked relevant skills, qualifications or experience, accounted for 22%.

The top five hard-to-fill vacancies were nurses, programmers and software development professionals, HR officers, medical practitioners, and welfare and housing associate professionals.

These are also in the top ten roles taken by new graduates, suggesting that even though thousands of graduates enter those jobs every year, employers still find positions difficult to recruit and that supply and demand of graduates may not be as well matched as the economy requires. 

While HECSU Prospects found that a low number of applicants with the required skills was a common reason that vacancies were so hard to fill, applicants were failing to demonstrate sufficient work experience.

Nearly a third of employers reported lack of work experience as the reason they were unable to fill managerial roles (28.6%) and associate professional positions (27.6%).

The Institute of Student Employers reported firms had recruited 4% less interns this year than last year and offered 7% less placements. 

Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at HECSU Prospects said: 'Some of the more difficult recruitment challenges faced by employers trying to recruit professional workers come at managerial level and so this analysis is not merely a guide to demand for new graduates, but also an indication of where graduate development may need some focus.

'Particularly the need for graduates to have some form of work experience so they can develop and demonstrate key skills to employers is vital. It’s concerning that there seems to be less appetite for work experience among business this year. We have evidence to support that it is fundamental, not only to boosting employability, but to tackling skills shortages.'

Media enquiries

Clare Tregaskis, press officer, Prospects, 07792 429227,

About Prospects

Prospects has worked at the heart of the higher education sector for almost 50 years and is the only careers organisation to invest its profits back into education through its parent charity, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU). Prospects HECSU is the Universities UK agency responsible for student and graduate employability.

Prospects' mission is to provide all students with expert careers information, advice and opportunities leading to a bright future. Activities include:

  •, visited by more than two million students and graduates a month for careers advice, jobs, courses, internships and unique tools such as Career Planner and Job Match.
  • Prospects Hedd, UK higher education's official degree verification and university authentication service.
  • Prospects manages the government-supported Graduate Talent Pool, an online service that matches employers with graduate interns.
  • Graduate labour market research such as What do graduates do?
  • Prospects Luminate, the home of student and graduate labour market information and research.

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