Labour Shortages & 7 Industries Regularly Affected By It

The events of the past two years have affected companies in almost every industry, and many are still feeling the effects today.

But COVID is just one of a number of global factors that have led to severe labour shortages in many sectors, with Brexit, changes to economic activity, and ageing populations also having an impact. 

Labour Shortages & 7 Industries Regularly Affected By It

In this post, we discuss seven industries that are facing labour shortages this year. We’ll also provide our tips for combatting these challenges in 2023 and beyond.

7 industries seeing significant labour shortages

Here is a list of significant labour shortage by industry:

1. Aviation (pilots and crew)

In a 2019 survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman, 62% of flight operators identified a lack of qualified pilots as a key risk to the future of the aviation industry. The same study predicted a global gap of some 34,000–50,000 pilots by 2025. And that was before the pandemic, which has only worsened the situation. 

In fact, more than a third of qualified pilots laid off or furloughed due to COVID hadn’t yet resumed flying as of January 2022.

Training programs were also halted in many places due to the pandemic, which means there’s a shortage of newly qualified pilots. And with large numbers of pilots currently approaching retirement age in the US in particular, this is likely to be a problem in the coming years. 

In other regions, there are different reasons for the shortage. In China, for example, a growing middle class means there’s a higher demand for flights — and not enough pilots or crews to staff them.

The Asia-Pacific region, meanwhile, has seen large numbers of expatriate pilots return home during the pandemic, citing fears of getting stuck away from their families due to strict border restrictions.

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2. Airports (security, ground staff and retail)

Meanwhile, many airports are also struggling to cope with the increasing demand brought about by the removal of COVID travel restrictions around the world, after dramatically scaling back operations in 2020.

Shortages in security, retail and ground staff have reportedly been causing delays in many UK airports in particular.

Anecdotally, it seems that many who left jobs in airports (or were laid off) during the pandemic are now reluctant to return to their roles — which is hardly surprising given the physically demanding nature and low pay that they typically carry. 

There’s also evidence that onboarding for airport staff — which has always been slow because of the security vetting each employee needs to go through — is taking substantially longer than it did before the pandemic due to a backlog.

3. Construction

Construction is another industry that’s seeing huge labour shortages around the world at the moment. In the UK, a survey by recruitment specialist Seach Consultancy found that 83% of construction businesses were feeling the effects of the shortage. 

In Spain, seven out of ten companies reported having had to turn down contracts due to a lack of staff in 2021. And in the US, Associated Builders and Contractors predicted in February that the industry would face a gap of around 650,000 workers this year. 

An ageing workforce is a big part of the problem: the average retirement age in construction in the US is 61, and more than one-fifth of construction workers are currently over 45. Without enough new construction workers filling the pipeline, this problem is only going to worsen as more workers retire. 

Another issue is that in many countries, the construction industry is largely dependent on foreign labour — which is in short supply after the pandemic, which pushed many foreign workers to return home. 

4. Hospitality, accommodation and food service

The hospitality, accommodation and food service industries have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic around the world. And even now that these industries are opening up again, many hospitality employers are struggling to find the staff they need. 

This is partly due to the sector’s reliance on part-time workers, who were particularly hard-hit by job losses in the early days of the pandemic. 

And factors like zero-hours contracts, low pay, and the expectation of working unpaid overtime mean many hospitality workers who lost their jobs in 2020 are now reluctant to return unless conditions change.


5. Food and drink (agriculture and production)

Many different areas of the food and drink sector are also experiencing labour shortages too. In the UK, there’s a tendency to blame this on the mass exodus of EU workers after Brexit.

But while this is likely a factor, it’s only part of the story. In farming, for example, over 80% of the people who have left the industry since the beginning of the pandemic are British. 

An exception is the meat processing industry, which has always been heavily reliant on European labour in the UK, and which is certainly suffering now. A lack of slaughterhouse workers — historically largely Eastern European — made headlines in 2021, when hundreds of pigs had to be culled on UK farms due to the shortage. 

But the lack of food production workers is by no means just a UK problem. According to a recent Bloomberg report, it’s also having a devastating effect on Malaysian palm oil production, shrimp production in Vietnam, and even tomato farming in southern Italy

6. Transport and haulage

According to the Road Haulage Association, there’s a shortage of around 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK alone. And the situation is also difficult in countries such as Poland, France, Italy, and Germany, as well as Scandinavia. 

In the UK, high numbers of EU workers returning home after Brexit or because of the pandemic have certainly had an effect, as has the cancellation of 40,000 driving tests since 2020 due to the pandemic. 

This is also another industry suffering from an ageing population, with large numbers of drivers set to retire — and not enough new recruits to replace them.

7. Health and social care

The pandemic has driven many healthcare workers around the world to crisis levels, with many working overtime in understaffed, underfunded hospitals. This has quite naturally led to high levels of burnout. 

A recent US study found that 18% of healthcare workers had quit their jobs since the pandemic began — and a further 31% had considered it. More worryingly, 19% of those were considering leaving healthcare altogether. In fact, a 2021 Mercer report suggests that some 6.5 million people in the US will permanently leave their jobs in healthcare in the next five years, with only 1.9 million people expected to replace them. 

The situation is no better in the UK. In fact, the NHS suggests that it was working with a shortage of nearly 100,000 staff before March 2020 — and the pandemic has only worsened things. 

What can companies do to combat labour shortages?

Although the situation is certainly worrying in these and other industries, there are certain actions that proactive companies can take to combat labour shortages in 2023 and beyond. 

Readdress pay and benefits

In many industries, workers are reluctant to return to jobs with poor conditions and low pay — and understandably so. But the solution isn’t (just) to throw money at the problem.

Take the time to really think about what you can offer new recruits. Benefits like flexible hours, wellness packages and employee assistance programmes can give you an edge over other companies.

Invest in training and development

Investing in training and development is a brilliant way to keep hold of the staff you already have — but it can also help you attract new employees.

Today’s candidates want to know that there’s room for them to grow within an organisation, so making it clear from your employer branding that you provide employees with this chance is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

Look for untapped markets

If you’re not finding the people you need, consider looking at groups that are usually overlooked.

That might include ex-military personnel, ex-offenders, disabled people, or even those who aren’t able to apply for jobs in the traditional way because of language barriers.

By thinking outside the box, you have a real chance of finding hard-working employees who’ll be glad of the opportunity to earn a living.

Supplement with contingent labour

In many industries, it’s difficult to make permanent hires right now — but that doesn’t mean you have to shut down your business. By supplementing your existing workforce with contingent workers like freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors, you can see great results in terms of cost savings, flexibility and productivity.

The hiring process is also significantly shorter and simpler with contingent workers, so you can get the staff you need without having to waste time jumping through administrative hoops.

Need help sourcing and managing your contingent workforce?

If you’d like to use contingent labour to supplement your permanent workforce but aren’t sure where to start, CXC can help. Our direct sourcing solution can help you to find the contract workers you need when you need them, and even allow you to recruit in advance for your future staffing needs. 

We can also assist you in managing your contingent workforce, and help you to ensure you’re engaging independent workers legally and compliantly

Have a question or need help?

Get in touch with our friendly CXC EMEA team today to find out how we can help your organisation overcome the challenges created by labour shortages.