Labour shortages have led to ‘a real fight’ to recruit workers across the region, heading to a 'critical point', it has been claimed.

Employers across North Wales are mirroring recent research that about half of all firms are struggling to recruit new workers and business confidence is dipping.

The Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics and Political Science also found that one in five are having issues retaining existing staff, as employees look for new opportunities elsewhere.

Chrissie Small, director of recruitment company gap personnel, says they are seeing the impact first hand.

She said: "Initially we were having labour shortages across the North Wales area, it is a real issue

"There was some candidate availability but with regards to the skill levels and the work available for these types of candidates, it was very, very limited.

"Now it's a real blend, we're not seeing the volume of candidates coming through.

"In some more senior positions we're really struggling to fill them.

"We used to get a lot of candidates from cross border – Chester, Ellesmere Port – but we've not seen candidates from those areas in the same numbers for a good six months.

"There's a real fight for labour in the area just now. In the last 12 to 18 months, we've seen it really go downhill dramatically."

Action needs to be taken but there are no quick fixes.

Experts said the data suggests the Government must do more to encourage firms to invest in training workers, through tax credits and changes to the apprenticeship levy scheme.

Apprenticeships are one solution supported by Askar Sheibani, CEO of Comtek Network Systems UK and chair DBF (Deeside Business Forum).

He said: "Apprenticeship is a very good way forward but it has not been concentrated on enough at all.

"The government have given it lots of lip service for a long time but with no proper strategy.

"Traditional apprenticeships also need to be made attractive for companies.

"Graduate schemes are good at producing higher skilled workers but the same could be done at colleges for lower level skills.

"And schemes like this must be made known, publicised so organisations know what's going on and can champion the use of them."

The report's co-author, Swati Dhingra, said: "Policies that provide incentives for human capital investments will support job transitions across sectors, occupations and firms.

"Improving skills will address labour shortages, although this may be a more long-term fix, promoting productivity, wages and social mobility."

Chrissie agreed apprenticeship was the long term way forward but added that there are other contributing factors to the current shortage, with freedom of movement being one.

She said: "It's had a massive impact. We've seen a number of our European workers that had no intention to go back to Europe have since decided to.

"With the pandemic and having not been able to visit family and friends for 18 months, they then decided to go back.

"The vast majority aren't coming back. Working in the UK is no longer as attractive.

"From what they've told us, wages have increased in Europe since they've gone home.

"So the cost of living is still relatively cheap, but wages are much stronger than what they were two to three years ago.

"The uncertainty and procedures to get settlement status in the UK can be such a rigmarole, many will think 'what's the point' or 'will the goalposts change again'."

Businesses have seen revenues increase since the end of the last lockdown restrictions in the spring, with volumes increasing every month since April.

However, the trend has stalled since October, with about an equal number of companies reporting an increase or a decrease in business.

Wages have also increased as companies attempt to retain staff, the report found, and some sectors have been hit hard by new post-Brexit rules in particular, although these have been minimal.

Just one in 10 firms report that the UK's immigration regime is causing labour shortages, while one in five businesses have reported that long-term skills gaps are affecting their ability to recruit workers.

About a third of firms say they have responded to labour shortages by raising wages, and nearly half expect labour shortages to last more than one year.

One in five say they believe the shortages will stretch for at least two years.

Chrissie adds that it's not just one level of recruitment to be hit.

She said: "With some of our lower skilled positions, we're finding our candidates don't want to do those types of roles.

"The semi skilled, be it in manufacturing or assembly, we are seeing shortages across the board.

"Then as you go into more of the mechanical, electrical engineers or multi-skilled engineers too, these are the key areas.

"And the issue with drivers, which has been a problem a number of years in the making, continues to be struggle."

Josh De Lyon, research assistant at CEP, said: "After the Covid-induced lockdowns in 2020, economic activity has been on the rise in 2021 as vaccines have been rolled out.

"Yet the recovery in the UK has been restricted. Global supply chains have been disrupted by factory closures, fractured transport networks, labour disruptions and rising energy prices.

"In the UK, dealing with these issues has been made harder by Brexit, which significantly increased barriers to trade, investment and migration with its closest and largest economic partner.

"And now, the Omicron variant is likely to increase uncertainty about the recovery, particularly in some sectors like hospitality."

Chrissie puts the reality of the situation, if left untreated, into perspective: "About 48 is the average age for a maintenance engineer now, if we don't do something quick in regards to apprenticeships or training, very quickly we're going to have an ageing workforce and nobody that's going to be able to fix the products.

"Then what will happen is industry will move out of the UK.

"It feels like it's getting to a critical point."