Labour shortages spread to law and accountancy

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The Independent Online

The shortage of skilled labour has become so acute that even law and accountancy firms are having to look overseas to fill staffing gaps.

The shortage of skilled labour has become so acute that even law and accountancy firms are having to look overseas to fill staffing gaps.

According to anecdotal evidence from the CBI, the employers' organisation, recruit- ment difficulties are hampering companies across all sectors.

The CBI said the economy was close to full employment and that the public sector recruitment drive was forcing businesses to raise wages.

Comments from its regional councils, passed to The Independent, painted a picture of skills shortages outside the traditional areas of IT and computing. One chemical company reported that chemists were "as rare as hens' teeth" while a firm of property advisers said it was struggling to find well-trained staff at the manager level.

An executive from one major accountancy firm said he was having to "import" many more staff into the UK from the firm's overseas offices than ever before to fill vacancies. He said it was becoming increasingly hard to compete on salary with rivals in the public sector. None of the participants wished to be identified for commercial reasons.

Law firms said that although they had no problems finding low skilled staff, they suffered from shortages of quality people at the middle-to-senior level.

In a finding that will add to concerns over the declining number of science courses at universities, an environmental engineer reported problems finding contaminated land specialists and hydrogeologists.

One global electronics company said it was looking overseas because of "pretty severe" problems recruiting engineers. It also found that IT, software development, food processing and hospitality companies - the traditional areas for recruitment difficulties - were still bedevilled with recruitment problems.

Ian McCafferty, the CBI's chief economist, said: "The anecdotal signs are that the labour market is essentially full. Our members are having to cast their net wider and there's more competition in terms of wage settlements, especially between the private and public sectors."

Firms across the board complained that younger jobhunters lacked simple skills such as calculating percentages and the ability to communicate clearly, either verbally or in writing.

John Philpott, the chief economist at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), said there was growing demand for people with "numerical" skills. "There has been a big increase in graduates but they have not always been going into numerically strong subject areas and that's a problem across the labour market," he said. Research by the CIPD found that two-thirds of companies said candidates lacked the specialist skills needed.