The eight drivers of change will disrupt the labour market. As the what, who, when and where of work changes profoundly and rapidly, the labour market is unlikely to provide enough workers with the necessary skills and experience in the right places at the right time.
In the aftermath of the pandemic in summer and autumn 2021, some restaurants which should have been benefiting from a post-lockdown surge in demand were closed as they could not recruit staff. An absence of HGV drivers caused supply-chain headaches across the land and skill shortages in other fields are being publicised daily. Between June and August 2021, with lockdown restrictions easing, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of job vacancies in the UK had reached record levels of over one million.
These job shortages are amplified by Covid-19. Workers have been quarantining because they have the virus or been in close contact with someone who has, while others have left occupations from which they were furloughed or have been laid off permanently. In the case of HGV drivers, driving tests have been delayed. The impact of the closure of the furlough scheme in September 2021 on unemployment remains uncertain (Covid-19 growth and prosperity). In addition, EU migrant workers have left and are not able to return to many of the in-demand jobs (see migration – EU nationals). Global trade disruptions are affecting supply chains, meaning some workers do not have the products they need to do their jobs.
The labour market disruption emerging in the UK provides a stark reminder of the interconnectivity of the drivers of change. Covid-19 and Brexit result in labour shortages and interruptions to supply (see globalisation; role of the state; migration). Businesses respond by raising pay to attract workers, so prices need to rise. To remain competitive, businesses look to alternatives such as increased automation (see technology) or moving production or cultivation to other countries. Unemployment rises and government then needs to respond (see role of the state).
While the current shortages will gradually reduce, the eight drivers of change will continue to create further ones which are likely to become a common feature in the years ahead notwithstanding potential increase in unemployment and under-employment. Employers will need to be more flexible in their recruitment strategies (see emerging themes – flexibility).
Will job shortages among some of the traditionally less well-paid jobs result in increased wages? And will minimum wage laws or social and governance concerns of business also contribute to raised pay rates (see sustainability – social concerns; and corporate governance)? What effect would this have on the labour market and the economy? Will it accelerate the automation of jobs? Will we see a rise in the number of apprentices being taken on?
In the longer term, the how much of work promises to come to the fore. Will the number of jobs grow, as has been the case in other Industrial Revolutions (see technology; and new jobs, old jobs, more jobs, fewer jobs), with new jobs created and productivity increases raising consumer buying power? Or will this time be different as the range and speed of technological developments mean most jobs can be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence (see technology – automation; and artificial intelligence)? Will the declining fertility rate, reduced migration and more students place increased strain on the labour market or will greater employer flexibility compensate for this? The from where of work comes into play with the scope for the public sector to compensate for a contracting private sector. To what extent will the job market be sufficiently resilient to cope with unexpected shocks?
The how much of work will also influence the labour market in terms of the amount of work each person does. Before the pandemic, working hours were gradually reducing, although part of that was accounted for by under-employment with people being in work but wanting to do more.