FOUR in five businesses are struggling to fill vacancies because of a lack of skilled workers – the highest number in 17 years, new research suggests.

Employment group Manpower said the number of employers reporting skills shortages increased six-fold over the last decade, and more than doubled since pre-Brexit and the pandemic.

A survey of 2,020 UK employers suggested the most difficult jobs to fill included those in energy and utilities, healthcare, transport, real estate and computing.

The hospitality industry is also struggling, according to new British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) research.

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According to the organisation's Quarterly Economic Survey Q4 2022, the UK’s largest independent survey of business sentiment and leading indicator of UK GDP growth, business conditions show no signs of recovering following a big drop in Q3 (the previous quarter).

Research found one in eight organisations reported recruitment difficulties.

Hospitality businesses were most likely (87 per cent) to face recruiting challenges, followed by manufacturing, construction, professional and public services, education and the health sector.

Callum George, policy adviser at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “The labour market in the North East is incredibly tight at the moment - but this is particularly the case for hospitality businesses, with high levels of unfilled vacancies.

"We know from our Quarterly Economic Survey people working in less-specialist roles often found in the hospitality sector are some of the most vulnerable to job losses, with more businesses taking cost-saving measures as the price of doing business worsens."

He added as a Chamber, they are aware staff costs are one of many concerns for hospitality businesses, and solving this problem will require various approaches.

"One way of doing this could be to give businesses a fighting chance of keeping up with wage inflation, by alleviating energy costs and providing grants for businesses to become more energy efficient.

“Reform of the Apprenticeship Levy to provide small businesses with more access to the region's overall training budget would also allow hospitality businesses to take advantage of our passionate, aspiring pool of talent.

“Whilst this may not solve the recruitment issues the hospitality sector faces completely, a heightened sense of recognition and action from the government would go a long way to restoring business confidence.”

Nabil Aziz, who runs the restaurant Cilantro in Hexham, said: "Staffing has always been one of the key obstacles in running a hospitality business, particularly in a smaller town like Hexham.

"Our skilled kitchen team travel from Newcastle and our front of house tend to be local but younger with less experience who have part-time roles prior to moving on to higher education or other ventures. Often when they are fully trained, they are ready for the next step in life. Staff retention is the struggle," Nabil said.

Kirsty Anderson of High House Barn, an event venue, restaurant and glamping business in Matfen, said: "One of the biggest challenges facing us and no doubt the rest of the hospitality industry at the moment is recruitment, especially as there is much competition for staff across many businesses at the moment. 

"Our rural location is a major factor in our recruitment challenges; with no public transport available we have to rely on people with their own transport. 

"The seasonal nature of the business makes it difficult for us to be able to offer full-time hours which in turn means we sometimes have to limit the services we can offer. 

"We are lucky to have a small, amazing core team of staff who have to be prepared to turn their hand to any jobs at the barn and glamping site and they do a fantastic job. 

"We are currently recruiting for front of house staff," she added.