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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Prison officers ‘voting with their feet’ amid jobs surge

ART GALLERY

Prisons are facing difficulties recruiting enough officers amid a surge in job vacancies, a union has said.

According to recruiters, job postings have reached an all-time high in the run-up to Christmas.

Driving instructors, prison officers, and forklift truck drivers are among the most in-demand jobs, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Meanwhile, demand for construction jobs has fallen due to supply chain issues.

According to REC data, prisons were among the employers with the highest demand for staff in late October and early November, with advertisements for prison officers increasing 13 percent.

According to the Prison Officers Association (POA), prisons are experiencing severe recruitment difficulties, with “staff voting with their feet and leaving” following a recent pay review, according to POA assistant general secretary Mick Pimblett.

In the run-up to Christmas, the prison system is “close to breaking point,” he added.

As an example, the POA cited Berwyn prison in north Wales, where 134 prison officers have left in the last three months.

According to Mr Pimblett, there has been an increase in violence and self-harm among prisoners, as well as violence directed at prison officers, since coronavirus restrictions on prisoners mixing were lifted.

The number of prisoners is approaching capacity as a result of crown courts processing cases again following postponements due to coronavirus lockdowns and people being convicted, he added, putting additional strain on the system.

“Vacancies across the estate have been stable for six months, and these figures include recruitment to our brand new prison, HMP Five Wells, which will open in the new year,” an HM Prison Service spokeswoman said.

In October, the HM Prison Service announced that all staff earning less than £24,000 will receive a £250 pay rise, and all staff yet to reach the top of their pay band will continue to receive progression pay of up to 5%.

‘Pent-up demand’

Vacancies for driving instructors saw the greatest increase, according to the REC data, increasing by roughly one-third.

According to a REC spokesman, the increase is likely due to pent-up demand for driving lessons and tests caused by the pandemic.

Karen Bransgrove, general manager of the Driving Instructors Association (DIA), stated that she had not seen any more advertisements, but there was a high demand for tests and lessons.

“There’s a huge backlog of tests,” she said, adding that because people couldn’t learn to drive for 18 months due to the pandemic, “there’s naturally pent-up demand.” She also stated that the number of instructors had decreased.

“As a result of the pandemic, many people took early retirement or dropped out [of driving instruction],” Ms Bransgrove said.

Loveday Ryder, chief executive of the Driver Vehicle and Standards Agency (DVSA), stated that the agency is doing “everything we can” to provide as many tests as possible so that services can resume normal operations.

“I know students are eager to take their exams right now,” she said, “but it is critical that candidates are properly prepared and do not rush.”

“With more than half of candidates failing and test demand currently at an all-time high, learners should only take their test when they are confident they will pass.”

This would prevent a further backlog of tests and lengthy waits for retests.

‘Brexit hit’

According to the REC data, there has also been a significant increase in the number of available positions for forklift truck drivers.

The UK has a chronic shortage of HGV drivers, which the logistics industry has attributed to factors such as Covid and Brexit.

There is also a forklift truck driver shortage, which the UK Warehousing Association attributes to Brexit.

According to Clare Bottle, the association’s chief executive, prior to Brexit, 34% of forklift truck drivers were EU nationals, but many had returned to their home countries.

Driver pay increased by 20-30% as a result of the resulting labour shortages, she said, which was unsustainable for warehousing businesses, the majority of which were small to medium-sized.

These companies were already operating on razor-thin margins, with staffing costs eating up 60-70 percent of their profits.

In the short term, those businesses raised prices in order to survive, but Ms Bottle warned that those price increases could eventually be passed on to consumers, adding to inflationary pressures.

In the long run, she believes the industry needs to attract more young people and women.

Ms Bottle went on to say that warehousing was “dominated” by older people, primarily men: “We have an image problem that we need to address.”

According to a government spokesperson: “We are closely monitoring labour supply and collaborating with industry leaders to determine how we can best alleviate specific bottlenecks. Other countries around the world are facing similar challenges.

“Employers should make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce rather than relying on foreign labour. Our Jobs Plan is assisting people across the country in retraining, developing new skills, and re-entering the labour force.

“The government encourages all sectors to make employment more appealing to domestic workers in the United Kingdom by providing training, career opportunities, wage increases, and investment.”

Supply chain squeeze

According to the REC data, job advertisements increased in many parts of the country between October 25 and November 7, but demand fell sharply in some sectors.

The UK construction industry has boomed during the pandemic, owing to factors such as increased house sales during the stamp duty holiday and an increased appetite for home improvements.

However, Covid has witnessed a global squeeze on supply chains, with building material costs rapidly rising.

According to Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, construction job advertisements fell last week as supply issues “constrained the industry’s ability to work to capacity.”

Ads for painters and decorators were down more than 17%, while demand for roofers, plasterers, bricklayers, and carpenters was also down.

According to the Federation of Master Builders, the decrease in advertisements “may be indicative of the overall cooling off of the market, following a 24-year high in construction activity earlier this year as lockdown restrictions eased.”

“Small, local builders are also facing lengthy delays, with 89 percent having to pause work due to skills and materials shortages,” said Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

“These [REC] figures may indicate that builders are unwilling or unable to take on more work while skills and materials are in short supply, creating uncertainty when planning for new jobs.”

SourceBBC
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