The Hardest Roles to Fill – Symptom or Signpost for the Jobs Market?

Optometrist examining woman's eyes.

The costs, commitment and time involved in taking on more staff mean those who make hiring decisions always have one eye on the future. But while their immediate focus is usually dominated by workflow, budgets and staffing questions, looking beyond the short term can reveal valuable insights that help them make better hires now.

Indeed has a front-row seat on trends in the jobs market; our data gives us an unparalleled snapshot of who is hiring, whom they are looking for, and who the jobseekers are. In the first of a new series, our team has looked at which jobs are currently the hardest to recruit for – and what this means for the jobs market now and in the future.

Even in the most benignly certain times, predicting the future is tricky. Britain’s current economic and political limbo makes it harder still.

Yet understanding what’s going on in the labour market right now – and why – is as good a place as any to start from when seeking to identify where things might go from here.

Some jobs are always easier to recruit for than others. But the jobs that are hardest to fill can change over time, and knowing what these roles are right now – and why they are causing employers such difficulty – can give us clues about what candidates want and how best to attract them.

It also raises a difficult question; are these ‘hard to fill’ roles likely to presage a serious shortage of workers in this space? Or will increased awareness of the battle for talent, and rising wages, spur a wave of applications from opportunistic jobseekers? Only time will tell.

A blind spot

Our inability to see into the future may be matched by an inability to see in the future if a shortage of optometrists is not avoided; these vision experts have proven the most elusive candidates of all over the past 12 months.

Indeed’s analysts looked at all UK postings on its website during the last year. Any of them that remained vacant for 60 days or more were classed as ‘hard to fill’.

The team then compared the results against the total number of postings for each job, to determine which roles had the highest proportion of ‘hard to fill’ postings.

Optometrist was the job with the highest percentage of vacancies that were 'hard to fill' in the past year.

Optometrists were by far the most challenging staff for employers to find, with more than two thirds of all vacancies remaining unfilled for at least two months.

More than half of all solicitor postings were ‘hard to fill’, with surgeons in third place – 46.32% of advertised surgeon roles were still vacant after 60 days.

In some ways this is unsurprising. These are all highly specialist roles for which there is a finite number of qualified candidates. So the right candidate is likely to be worth waiting for, even that means taking several months.

That said, it does hint at a shortage in the supply chain. These jobs are well-established roles, and they have not become any more demanding or specialist in the last year; and yet finding suitably skilled staff seems to be a challenge – quite alarmingly so when recruiting optometrists, who in many cases are nowhere to be seen.

Tech bubble still bulging

Another noticeable pattern in the top ten jobs with the highest percentage of ‘hard to fill’ postings is the high number of roles from the burgeoning tech sector that feature.

Six of the top ten are tech jobs, and all of them are lucrative, paying far more than the national average salary of £27,600. Software engineers, software architects, front end developers, system engineers, software test engineers and full stack developers are all highly sought after – but evidently this is another corner of the jobs market where demand is outstripping the supply.

While this is not ideal for tech employers – nobody wants long-term vacancies – it paints a positive picture of the British tech boom, which seems to show no signs of abating.

Lots of tech companies are looking to hire, which makes it a great time to be a tech worker. The power lies with the jobseekers, whose skills and specialisms are in demand for roles that employers are having to be patient in filling.

Clean pickings

Indeed’s analysts applied a different metric to draw up an additional list of ‘hard to fill’ jobs, looking at the positions where the largest quantity, rather than proportion, of these postings currently exist.

In terms of sheer numbers of postings that have been vacant for more than two months, the role with the most was that of cleaner, which accounts for almost 3% of the jobs currently listed on Indeed that are classed as ‘hard to fill’ – meaning that of all ‘hard to fill’ jobs, one in around 33 is for a cleaner.

Although only 11.53% of cleaner jobs are classed as ‘hard to fill,’ the overall quantity of cleaners being sought means that, as a proportion of ‘hard to fill’ jobs, cleaner roles top the list.

Cleaner held the highest proportion of all 'hard to fill' postings in the UK in the past year.

These are jobs where the most outright opportunities lie for jobseekers, which is more a reflection of the larger numbers of cleaners being advertised for than optometrists, for example.

They are generally entry level or lower-skilled roles, and in many cases will likely be short-term positions – meaning there is high turnover in staff, so a constant need for employers to be recruiting.

Future gazing

Returning to our umbrella topic, the future of jobs, what might all of this mean for the UK and its jobs market in the coming years?

One unifying theme across both lists is the human element. Much has been written in recent years about the imminent ‘rise of the machines’ and how automation is set to make many roles redundant.

Those days seem a long way off if we look at the roles being sought most actively and currently proving most elusive. Whether it’s highly specialist positions in medicine or tech, or entry level support roles, the key factor is the high demand for capable people to do these jobs.

The care and medical sector might be worth keeping an eye on. As well as a huge proportion of optometrist and surgeon roles remaining vacant for long periods, there is a sizable number of nurses and care assistant jobs that are proving similarly difficult to fill.

Every generation is becoming more dependent on this sector than the last, with improving science and technology meaning we are all living longer than ever before. If there is already a shortfall in capable staff for these roles, it is only likely to worsen in coming years as an aging population places ever higher demand on the care sector. Such compassionate roles would also appear to be comparatively immune to the impact of automation – they will always need a human element.

The same is true of the tech world, where one might have expected advances to have put certain jobs at risk. If anything, the opposite is true – demand is high and finding the right staff is difficult.

Opportunistic jobseekers should take heed – training for a specialist tech job could well see you in high demand, and in a position to take full and lucrative advantage.

That said, these things can be cyclical. Another truth right now is how stacked the deck is in the jobseekers’ favour – employment has never been higher, meaning employers have a shallower pool than ever from which to choose. In other words, there is difficulty across the board – these roles discussed just seem to be even more problematic.

As the market slowly swings back in favour of employers, as it surely must do at some stage, demand for certain staff will also shift – whether the roles discussed here remain hard to fill remains to be seen, but right now, shrewd jobseekers might do well to target these positions, where at present opportunity abounds.

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