This indicator measures the proportion of establishments in Scotland with skills shortage vacancies (SSV) using the Employer Skills Survey (ESS).

The headline figure presented is the incidence of SSV. This is the proportion of establishments reporting at least one SSV (i.e. vacancies which are reported to be hard to-fill because applicants lack relevant skills, qualifications or experience). During the survey, employers are first asked if their vacancies were proving hard to fill, then asked to give their reasons for not being able to fill vacancies spontaneously (i.e. without being presented with a list of possible reasons). Any employers not reporting skills-related issues are then prompted on whether any of their hard-to-fill vacancies were proving hard-to-fill due to a lack of skills, experience or qualifications among applicants. These spontaneous and prompted responses combine to give a total number of skill-shortage vacancies.

This identification strategy may fail sometimes. For example, a role which requires a PhD in Computer Science may receive no applicants if there are no available workers with this qualification in the area. Equally, a reported skill-shortage vacancy ‚Äď i.e. one which attracts applicants but none with the right skills ‚Äď may be caused by relative unattractiveness of the role to a pool of potential applicants who do possess the right skills. Aspects of the role which influence would-be applicants, such as pay or working conditions, may not be recognised by the employer and therefore may not be represented in this survey.

The indicator provides a measure of skills shortages within Scotland. This helps to inform policy, planning and service delivery and deliver on our strategic priorities of improving productivity and Inclusive Growth.

Source of Data:

The Scottish Employer Skills Survey (ESS) 2020 follows a longstanding UK-wide ESS series (including Scotland) which was conducted biennially since 2011.  The ESS series therefore provides rich labour market intelligence from the period when the UK economy was emerging from the recession of the late 2000s, to more recent years when the UK has experienced relatively sustained economic growth and high levels of job creation, and into the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The Scottish ESS 2020 involved 3,497 telephone interviews with employers.  The sample was representative of businesses across Scotland in terms of size, sector and geographic region. The research provides a comprehensive source of intelligence on the skills challenges that UK employers face both within their existing workforces and when recruiting, the levels and nature of investment in training and development, and the relationship between skills challenges, training activity and business strategy.  The 2020 survey also included some new questions on the skills related impacts of COVID-19 on employers.

Fieldwork for the 2020 survey was undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, with fieldwork between 20 October and 22 December 2020.  Results (including comparisons over time) should be considered within this context.  When comparing differences over time, it should also be noted that fieldwork for the 2020 survey (October to December) was carried out later in the year than for the 2017 survey (May to October).  This will mean that any seasonal differences (for example, in recruitment patterns) will be reflected in the figures. 

Employers with at least two people on the payroll were in scope, and interviews were conducted at an establishment level with the most senior person at the site with responsibility for human resources and workplace skills.

The Scottish ESS publication and further background information on the measure is available here.

Further detail on the UK ESS is available here.


The headline figure presented is the incidence of Skills Shortage Vacancies. This is the proportion of establishments reporting at least one skill shortage vacancy (i.e. vacancies which are reported to be hard to-fill because applicants lack relevant skills, qualifications or experience).

The disaggregated data set also includes data on the density of Skills Shortage Vacancies. This is the Skills Shortage Vacancies as a proportion of all vacancies.

The disaggregated data set also includes regional breakdowns. The break by region reported is by Regional Outcome Agreement (ROA).  Please refer to the Scottish ESS 2020 technical report (Appendix C) for how ROA matches to local authorities.

The disaggregated data set also reports breakdowns by sizeband.  It should be noted that there is a change in sizeband reported for the 2020 survey:  100+ instead of 250+.  The sample was structured to separate businesses with 100 to 249 employees from large businesses with 250 employees or more. However, weighting on a size by sector basis meant that for some cells within the 250+ group there were either zero interviews or a very small number of interviews achieved. To overcome this issue, the 100 to 249 and 250+ groups were merged for weighting and reporting purposes.

Criteria for Change:

This evaluation is based on:

  • any difference within +/- 1 percentage point (pp) of last year's figure suggests that the position is more likely to be maintaining than showing any change.
  • An increase of 1 pp or more suggests the position is worsening.
  • a decrease of 1 pp or more suggests the position is improving.

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