Recruiting qualified and competent employees is a fundamental aspect of running a successful business and recruitment agency. However, in recent times, companies in various industries have been facing a significant challenge in finding suitable candidates to fill their job openings. This is due to a combination of factors, including a shortage of skilled workers, an increasingly competitive job market, changing workforce dynamics, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brexit has also played a significant role in the shortage, as it has reduced the number of available EU workers and made it harder for employers to recruit overseas workers. These factors have made it more challenging for employers in various industries to find suitable candidates to fill their job openings.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported during May to July 2021, there was a record high of approximately 953,000 job vacancies in the UK. Which represents an increase of 43.8% (equivalent to 290,000 job vacancies) compared to the previous quarter. Equally, in the period between April and June 2021, 70% of the 5,700 companies surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce reported difficulties in recruiting employees, based on the data. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), there is a projection that the unemployment rate will reach its highest point of 4.9% in 2024.

What Sectors Are Affected?

The shortage of skilled candidates is particularly acute in sectors such as healthcare, IT, and engineering, where highly specialised skills and expertise are required. According to a survey conducted by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), “57% of employers have hard-to-fill vacancies, and 29% anticipate significant problems in filling hard-to-fill vacancies over the next six months”. The most common sectors experiencing hard-to-fill vacancies include primary and utilities (82%), healthcare (78%), and education (77%). In the healthcare sector, for example, the demand for skilled professionals has increased significantly due to the pandemic. The IT sector is also experiencing a shortage of skilled candidates, with many businesses struggling to find individuals with the necessary technical skills and knowledge. Similarly, the engineering sector has been hit hard by the skills shortage, with a lack of engineers and technicians limiting growth and innovation.

Why Are There Candidate Shortages In The UK?

There are several reasons why the UK is currently experiencing recruitment candidate shortages:


Since the UK left the European Union, it has become more difficult for employers to hire workers from EU countries. This is because of the new immigration policies that have been introduced, which make it harder for EU citizens to work in the UK. For example, the Tier 2 visa system now requires that employers sponsor workers from outside the UK, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, the uncertainty caused by Brexit has made some EU citizens hesitant to move to the UK.


The pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK labour market. Some job seekers became more hesitant about changing jobs during the uncertain times of the pandemic. Concerns about job security, and the stability of new opportunities led to candidates being more cautious and selective in their job search. This cautiousness contributed to a reduced candidate pool for some positions. Furthermore, to adhere to social distancing measures and mitigate the spread of the virus, many organisations quickly transitioned to remote work.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, job seekers have undergone a reassessment of their job preferences, considering factors such as remote work, hybrid models, and travel distance. The widespread adoption of remote work during the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of working from home, including flexibility, better work-life balance, and reduced commuting time. Many job seekers now prioritise positions that offer remote work options or hybrid models that combine both remote and on-site work. Additionally, candidates have become more conscious of travel distance, and the desire for a better work-life integration.

Skills Gaps

There is a growing skills gap in the UK, particularly in industries such as healthcare and technology. Employers are finding it difficult to find candidates with the right skills and qualifications to fill their vacancies. This is partly because of changes in the education system, which have led to a focus on academic qualifications rather than vocational skills. Additionally, some industries have been slow to adapt to new technologies and working practices, which has left them struggling to attract younger workers.

Demographic Changes

The UK population is aging, which means that there are fewer young people entering the workforce to replace those who are retiring. This is particularly true in certain industries, such as manufacturing and construction, which have traditionally relied on younger workers. Additionally, the birth rate in the UK has been declining, which means that there are fewer young people in the pipeline to enter the workforce in the coming years.

Low Wages

In some industries, such as hospitality and retail, wages are relatively low. This has made it difficult for employers to attract and retain workers, particularly in areas where the cost of living is high. Additionally, some employers have been slow to raise wages in response to labour shortages, which has made it more difficult for them to compete for the best candidates.

Overall, the recruitment candidate shortages in the UK are a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach to solve. Employers may need to explore new strategies for attracting and retaining workers, such as offering more competitive wages, investing in training and development programs, or partnering with educational institutions to develop the skills of future candidates.

The Impact Of Candidate Shortages On Businesses

The impact of candidate shortages on businesses can be significant. It can lead to increased competition for candidates, higher recruitment costs, longer recruitment cycles, and increased pressure on existing staff. In some cases, it can also lead to businesses not being able to fill essential positions, which can have a negative impact on productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction.

One of the significant challenges posed by recruitment candidate shortages is that it increases competition for the available pool of candidates, which can drive up recruitment costs and lead to longer recruitment cycles. Additionally, the skills gap created by the shortage of suitable candidates can lead to businesses struggling to fill essential positions, ultimately impacting their productivity and profitability. Totaljobs’ Hiring Trends Index has indicated that businesses are still feeling the impact of the difficulty in finding the right candidates, with 27% of respondents expecting it to remain challenging to fill vacancies in 2023. Additionally, jobseekers are increasingly concerned about the rising cost of living, with 57% of those looking for new employment in 2023 prioritising a higher salary to counteract these expenses. However, the usual surge in job applications in January is slower than usual due to job security concerns, with one in three (31%) jobseekers worried about this issue.

With a shortage of talent, competitive job markets, and a changing workforce landscape, recruiters are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) as a solution. AI-powered recruitment tools are being used to identify and attract potential candidates, screen resumes, and automate candidate engagement processes. This technology can help companies streamline their recruitment processes, save time and resources, and increase the chances of finding the right fit for the job. In this context, the use of AI is becoming more prevalent in the recruitment industry, with many businesses adopting it as a key strategy to survive the ongoing candidate drought.

How AI Can Help With Recruitment

Here are some of the ways that AI can help address the candidate shortages in the UK and support businesses in finding the right talent to fill their roles.

Candidate Screening And Selection

AI-powered systems can scan job descriptions and resumes, identifying the most relevant candidates for the position. This can save recruiters a significant amount of time, allowing them to focus on the most qualified candidates.

Candidate Engagement

AI-powered chatbots can engage with candidates, answer their questions, and keep them informed about the status of their application. This improves the candidate experience and increases the likelihood of attracting top talent.

Skills Assessment

AI can assess candidates’ skills through online tests and simulations, providing a more accurate assessment of their capabilities. This can help identify candidates who may have been overlooked in traditional recruitment processes and ensure that businesses are hiring the right people for the job.

AI is one solution to address recruitment candidate shortages in the UK, but it is not the only solution. Other strategies such as upskilling existing employees, expanding the talent pool through international recruitment, and improving employer branding and retention can also help address the shortage of skilled candidates. However, Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a powerful technology that is transforming the recruitment process.

The Future Of Recruitment

Candidate shortages in the UK are not likely to disappear overnight, but businesses can take steps to mitigate their impact. By leveraging technology such as AI, businesses can tap into a wider pool of potential candidates, streamline their recruitment processes, and ultimately find the right candidates for the job. As AI technology continues to develop, we can expect to see more businesses turning to it as a way of addressing their recruitment challenges.