Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Tapping into pools of unused talent - The solution for the skills shortage

James Kingston, founder and Managing Director of Kingston Barnes Recruitment Agency based in Bristol, is passionate about people, and prides his agency on being a market leader within Construction & Property, Engineering and Manufacturing and Logistics & Supply Chain.

With so many businesses enduring challenging economic times and struggling to recruit the right talent, addressing the skills shortage is something James feels passionate about and wants to address.   

He believes that internal employee upskilling, alongside hiring from a pool of untapped talent is where the solution to the skills-shortage could lie. James explores the possibilities and positive outcomes of hiring from this untapped talent pool, and believes hiring from an array of areas including apprentices and apprenticeship programmes, ex-offenders, people with disabilities, and ex-military personnel could result in a significant closing of the skills shortage gap that most UK businesses are facing. 

James explores recent surveys each with fascinating findings that support his own expert opinions, and he believes that businesses need to select from a wider array of audiences to help the skills shortage for the short and long term. 

James said: “Oxford College created a fascinating survey, whereby they found that an estimated 20% of the workforce in the UK will be significantly underskilled for their jobs by 2030. This could amount to around 6.5 million people! The survey also found that two-thirds (66%) of large UK businesses said they struggle to recruit employees with the skills they need. We need to be tapping into these pools of talent that until very recently haven't been explored.

Another fantastic study from NESfircroft, highlighted the need for 937,000 new recruits in the construction and trades industry over the next decade. Among these recruits, 244,000 should be qualified apprentices.

The survey goes on to say that moreover, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted the construction industry. The industry needs 225,000 new workers by 2027, according to the Construction Skills Network (CSN) report. The increasing skills gap poses a threat to the UK economy, with concerns rising over output in 2023 and beyond.”

These reports beg the question of what can we do to close this gap and help the economy thrive? Could the answer lie in apprenticeship programmes? According to a Coleman Group survey: Apprenticeships are valuable to the construction industry as they are a great way to bring in the younger generation. Apprentices can gain required practical knowledge on the job whilst gaining professional qualifications. Due to the skills shortage, apprentices are now more crucial than ever. 

According to Government data, approximately 26,060 new apprentices joined the construction sector in the 2022/23 academic year. The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 revealed that 244,000 qualified apprentices would be required to fill the skills gap by 2032. This amount is equivalent to 25,000 qualified apprentices a year, or 500 qualified apprentices every week for the next ten years.

Apprentices are the future..Apprenticeships and retaining young talent 

The Financial Times report in 2021 saw that only 713,000 people were registered as apprentices, the lowest annual total since 2010. Additionally, almost half of these didn’t complete their course.

The survey goes on to say, there is a lack of interest among young people in pursuing careers in the construction industry, particularly within the UK. Research carried out by data specialist Savanta ComRes indicated that only 5% of students actively contemplate pursuing roles within the construction sector.

Apprenticeship schemes serve as invaluable mechanisms for attracting new talent and equipping them with the essential proficiencies for thriving in the field. It's imperative for the construction sector to sustain investments in apprenticeship programs to cultivate a robust pool of skilled laborers.

Enhanced cooperation between educational establishments and the construction sector across all levels is imperative to ensure that aspiring candidates possess the requisite skills and knowledge about pathways to employment. Such collaboration may entail apprenticeship initiatives, internships, and tailored outreach efforts to highlight the diverse and promising career paths within the construction industry.

James advocates for a transformative approach whereby various industries across sectors forge localised partnerships with secondary schools to offer training opportunities and apprenticeship-driven programs, foreseeing substantial benefits for businesses.

Internal Employee Upskilling

“Internal employee upskilling is just the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to businesses closing the skills shortage gap. In addressing the prevalent skills shortage, businesses must adopt a proactive approach by upskilling their employees from within. Investing in the development of existing talent not only fosters a sense of loyalty and commitment, but also equips colleagues with the necessary skills to meet evolving demands. 

By nurturing a culture of continuous learning and growth, organisations can mitigate the effects of the skills gap while also enhancing employee engagement and retention. This internal focus not only fills immediate skill gaps but ultimately fosters a more resilient and competitive workforce.

Businesses have or should be implementing a plethora of upskilling options for their employees, with paid apprenticeship programs, professional-led training courses, mentoring, alongside e-learning. Ultimately the idealistic investment in employees will have business reaping the rewards when they’ve created a havan to work, a culture to be proud of, and people who are masters in their trade and continue to be so.” 

Tapping into the skills of qualified and competent ex-offenders

“The employment of ex-offenders presents a great opportunity to close the skills shortage gap, while also promoting social integration and rehabilitation. Leveraging the potential of ex-offenders in the workforce not only taps into a pool of talent that may have never been explored before, but also offers individuals a chance at redemption and a fresh start. Alongside this, hiring someone with a criminal record or an ex-offender will ultimately improve a company’s ethnicity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives that are becoming increasingly important in today’s business environment.

New statistics from the UK Government show rapid progress has been made to boost employment for prison leavers, with the number of ex-offenders who have been successfully steered into jobs within six months has more than doubled from 14% to 30% since April 2021. Alongside the increase in ex-offenders in new roles, the report found education programmes and workshops geared to local workforce needs are also helping offenders learn new skills and access a vibrant business network as they prepare for release. (

By providing training, mentorship, and support, employers can unlock the often overlooked skills and experiences of ex-offenders, filling critical gaps in industries facing shortages, just like the gaps we face in the construction & engineer sectors across the South West, sectors we are passionate about and specialise in at Kingston Barnes. Hiring ex-offenders fosters diversity and inclusivity within the workforce, promoting a more equitable society and again, contributes to a businesses’ EDI charter. 

Recognising the value of ex-offenders in addressing and closing the skills shortage gap is not only economically sound but also socially responsible.”

Tapping into the skills of people with disabilities

James continues: “A study found that 5.15 million working-age disabled people were in employment in January to March 2023 , an increase of 325,000 from October to December 2021, this could mean that businesses are starting to tap into useful resources such as partnership and charity programmes to increase their own EDI initiatives. 

Employing disabled individuals in the workforce is another route that could successfully present itself as a powerful avenue for addressing the skills shortages while also championing diversity and inclusivity. By recognising the talents and capabilities of disabled individuals, employers can tap into a rich pool of skills that are often underutilised or underrated. 

Through support and adaptive technologies, companies can empower disabled individuals to thrive in various roles, contributing their unique perspectives and abilities to industries facing shortages. Hiring disabled individuals not only fills critical gaps in the workforce, but also a more inclusive and equitable environment that promotes opportunities for personal growth and could result in a lesser employee turnover.”

Diving into the talent pool of Ex-Military personnel

“A 2022 Ministry of Defence Report found that 87% of military leavers were back into employment within six months after leaving the military. Employing ex-military personnel presents a compelling solution to the dwindling skills shortage affecting trades in the UK. These individuals bring a wealth of technical expertise taught through their military service, often in areas such as engineering, logistics, and telecommunications, which directly align with many trade professions and the trades we recruit for and into at Kingston Barnes. Their specialised training and experience not only fill immediate skill gaps but also offer a unique perspective and problem-solving approach to complex tasks. Ex-military personnel are accustomed to working in diverse and challenging environments, making them well-suited to adapt to the demands of various trade sectors. By tapping into this pool of talent, businesses can address the skills shortage effectively while also providing meaningful employment opportunities for veterans transitioning to civilian life. 

Alongside an increase in businesses partnering with charities and organisations who seek to successfully recruit people from untapped talent pools. Through such initiatives companies can foster innovation, enhance productivity, and effectively close the skills gap while building a more diverse and dynamic workforce poised for success in the modern economy.”

Kingston Barnes go above and beyond in securing the best talent for their client base of over 200+ businesses across the South West & UK, from SMEs with 20 employees to FTSE 100 companies which have a billion pound turnover.