“If you are an engineer you can come in, if you are a doctor you can come in, that’s great, but the economy also needs a wide range of people. You have got to make sure they can get in,” adds Borg-Neal.
Skills Provision’s Slay says the pandemic should force companies to rethink how much they pay staff.
“Businesses are not living in the real world, they’re living in a world that is gone,” he says. “In 2021, you can’t get away with paying people minimum wage, you just won’t get anybody.”
Industry chiefs reject the suggestion that salaries are not attractive enough. They argue that when tips and gratuities are taken into account, hospitality is not the low-paying employer it is cast as. Mark Selby, chief executive of Wahaca, says that many of the recruitment wounds his peers are experiencing are self-inflicted. The chain has filled most of the 60-odd new roles it has been hiring ahead of reopening.
“We made people redundant, but it wasn’t ‘death-by-email’,” he says. “We’ve tried to have one-on-ones and make people feel respected.”
Sustained hiring problems could, in extremis, hurt Britain’s recovery, warns Tony Wilson from the Institute of Employment Studies – making it more difficult for businesses to ride the wave of pent-up demand that reopenings are expected to unleash.
“They might find themselves having to pay more, they might find they’ve got skill shortages,” he says. “All of that ultimately could end up holding back the strength of the recovery.”
However, Wilson says that while companies might have to work harder to hire staff, there is enough slack in the labour market that these problems should be temporary. He says: “There’s no excuse really for employers not being able to fill these sorts of jobs, given the levels of worklessness.”