Employers fear skills shortages will hamper growth, survey shows

Almost half the employers in one of the Republic’s key population centres fear skills shortages will hamper growth or their ability to complete projects, a new study shows.

A survey of businesses in Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Wicklow and west Dublin, including Citywest, shows that 52 per cent of them expect to grow this year.

However, 48 per cent expect skills shortages to make it difficult to hire workers, while four out of 10 say the squeeze on labour will hinder expansion, and 43 per cent believe the problem will hit their ability to complete projects.

The survey of the so-called M7 corridor, which includes Dublin’s commuter belt, by Kildare County Chamber, Maynooth University, recruitment agency Clark and accountants Grant Thornton, quizzed 230 companies in the region in November and December.

The results, published in the Clark Workforce Survey 2021, show that 63 per cent of businesses questioned intend hiring more workers this year, but three-quarters had difficulty finding staff in 2020.

Deirdre Coghlan-Murray, managing director of Clark, said pay and conditions continued to play a big part in companies holding on to workers.

“The unwelcome arrive of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the exit of the UK from the European Union, the political instability and volatility we have seen in the world has certainly had an impact on how we have started 2021 versus how we thought we might be starting this time last year,” Ms Coghlan-Murray said.

Maynooth University school of business associate professor Dr Jean Cushen said the findings highlighted the importance of pay equity and transparency to workers, with 93 per cent of them singling out these issues while just 58 per cent of their bosses did so.

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She added that this was an opportunity for employers to boost returns from workers by outlining more clearly to staff the relationship between performance and pay.

Government funding

County Kildare Chamber chief executive Allan Shine argued that the Government needed to fund companies’ efforts to increase workers’ skills.

“As we come out of this pandemic, we will need a resilient workforce that is ready and enabled for the new digital age,” he said.

Grant Thornton chief economist Andrew Webb said that the free-trade deal struck between the EU and UK on Christmas Eve “somewhat” boosted the Republic’s economic prospects.

“The news of vaccine approvals, albeit with rollout proving to be more challenging than first expected, is providing a sense of light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

Grant Thornton partner Patrick Gallen noted that the pandemic had accelerated trends with which most workplaces were flirting before it arrived.

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