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).

Labour market


Following the closure of the furlough scheme in September 2021, there remains uncertainty about future levels of unemployment. As at August 2021 the Bank of England was forecasting UK levels to return to close to pre-pandemic levels (3.8% Q3 2019) in 2022 and remain there in the medium term. 


Unemployment levels remain and are projected to remain relatively low in the UK . However, with the growth of part-time and other atypical work, the number of workers in work but who would like to work more hours has increased. The numbers underemployed, like the unemployed, nearly doubled after 2008 but have not come down since to the same extent as the unemployed.

Skills shortages

Skills shortages

In 2021, the UK labour market faced shortages of HGV drivers, hospitality staff, agricultural staff and abattoir workers amongst others. This has caused supply chain problems and even petrol pumps running dry as well as businesses without staff . The shortages result from the combination of Brexit, Covid-19 and pent up consumer demand. However, these shortages maybe a sign of times ahead. 

Training and development

Training and development

The rapid pace of change has created new jobs, with other jobs in greater demand and others where demand has reduced, sometimes altogether. This means that many parts of the workforce will not have the skills which organisations need. Responsibility will fall, at least in part, on employers to train and develop workers to acquire the required skills. 

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Part 3 


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