Britain's employers are having more difficulty than ever in filling vacancies and are increasingly turning to migrant labour to make up the shortfall in the domestic workforce.
As official statistics revealed that the number of unfilled vacancies rose to 635,900 in the quarter to April – a 1.2 per cent rise on the same period last year – research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has confirmed the scale of skills shortages and recruitment difficulties facing employers.
A survey of 715 firms for the CIPD's Annual Recruitment, Retention and Turnover Survey found that more than eight out of 10 (85 per cent) had experienced recruitment difficulties in the past year.
As a result, almost four out of 10 (38 per cent) have recruited migrant workers to fill vacancies, a figure that rises to 44 per cent in the public sector. Three-quarters of these were recruited were employed on permanent contracts.
More than half the employers who recruited from overseas also said that they have increased the proportion of vacancies they filled with migrant workers during 2004.
Difficulties appear to be particularly acute in the private sector, where the number of companies reporting recruitment difficulties has risen three per cent year-on-year.
In the public sector, difficulties eased from 90 per cent in the 2004 survey to 83 per cent in the 2005 survey.
A quarter of organisations also reported problems recruiting senior staff and directors.
The category of vacancy causing the biggest recruitment headaches for employers was management and professional vacancies, with almost half (45 per cent) of employers having difficulties in this area.
But with 28.6 million people in work in Britain, up 196,000 on a year ago, and unemployment at just under 1.4 million, the CIPD's Rebecca Clake said that it was not surprising that many employers faced serious skills shortages.
"Low unemployment and a generally buoyant economy have made it a job seekers' market. Employers are fighting over a few potential recruits," she said.
"This shows how crucially important for the UK economy it is that government does not unduly restrict the supply of labour with any new legislation to limit immigration.
"If the new rules are set too tightly, employers will be left struggling to function due to a shortage of labour."