UK firms choose upskilling over new hires as unemployment figures rise


The UK’s tumultuous year has resulted in growing unemployment figures, as research finds that nearly two fifths (39%) of UK companies would prefer to upskill and train current employees than invest in hiring new personnel (33%). The survey conducted by European HR and payroll services provider SD Worx, found that when compared to other European countries, both the UK and Ireland fall behind in the trend of hiring permanent, pay rolled employees.

 The pandemic has changed the way in which businesses operate, with many now looking for key digital skills to boost corporate survival and resiliency. However, current schemes, such as the furlough scheme in the UK, has placed UK employers in difficult positions when it comes to hiring. Despite the need for specific skills, a first alternative to acquiring talent is identifying resources within the company and developing those through training.

The SD Worx survey reveals that, today, upskilling and reskilling employees is a very common practice in the UK. British employers in particular have been found to put great emphasis on moulding their employees into the best versions of themselves. This is done traditionally via formal training courses, but temporary exchanges and internal internships are also valuable initiatives that enable employees to develop new skills and competencies.


Contingent solutions to employment

Whilst upskilling has been noted as the “go-to” solution for UK companies, many still recognise that relying solely on this can sometimes be insufficient. The survey finds that nearly a third (31.0%) of UK organisations currently employ flex workers, whilst (30.8%) are considering investing in temporary staffing to support the business, instead of hiring permanent workers. Examples include freelancers, on-call workers and seconded staff.

When asked about motivations for hiring flex workers instead of permanent staff, UK companies highlighted the ability to fulfil specific skill gaps or knowledge that is difficult to find (42.0%), availability (33.2%), and lower  costs (32.5%) as the top three reasons.

“The current business climate forces companies to rethink their workforce management strategies. In short, organisations need to strike a balance between having a solid permanent workforce to cope with constant skill needs and, at the same, having a more flexible workforce available to quickly respond to changing staffing requirements. It is an encouraging trend when organisations enable life-long learning and upskilling within the business, enabling talent to fulfil its full potential and enabling career progress despite the prevailing uncertainly. The increasing number of digital HR tools and solutions available to businesses today enable a variety of internal and external mobility strategies, enabling business resilience, staff satisfaction and business continuity in the most challenging of times,” says Cathy Geerts, Chief Human Resources Officer at SD Worx.