What Are the Hardest Jobs to Fill?
- Feb 15, 2019

As unemployment remained at its lowest levels since records began throughout 2018, many businesses recruiting staff felt the impact in the form of reduced applications and fewer ‘quality’ applicants. However, you may be surprised by the type of roles that struggled most last year and thanks to data provided by Indeed, we can now reveal the 10 jobs that proved most difficult to fill last year, based on the length of time that they remained ‘open’ or ‘vacant’. And also the 10 job titles with the highest number of hard to fill vacancies.

We also have average salaries being advertised against both sets of data.

Most people realise that there are shortages across many niche skills within their sectors and generally speaking the more niche or highly skilled the role is, the more challenging the recruitment can be, seems to work as a general rule of thumb.


Talent Attraction


However, more mainstream roles are also being affected, with unprecedented levels of competition, forcing businesses to get far more organised, recruitment savvy or raise their salaries and rates in order to compete.

The role that struggled most to attract applications and stayed vacant for longest in 2018 was that of an optometrist. which has subsequently proven to be the most difficult to fill, with 68.79% of ‘Optometrist’ vacancies posted on Indeed over the past year remaining unfilled for 60 days or more.

According to the Indeed data, just over half of all solicitor roles were still vacant after 60 days, and roles for surgeons was just behind on 46.32%.

The increased number of many roles that are struggling can be put down to a combination of unemployment levels, uncertainty around Brexit, a lack of the right skills coming through from the Education pipeline and the tech boom.

What surprises me most, when I hear all the noise around skills shortages and how businesses are struggling to recruit, even against mainstream roles, is the lack of any sort of strategic change taking place in order to adapt, or the obvious resignation to their own inability to recruit under the current conditions, also the lack of vision to work around the issues they face and very little long term strategy to future proof against a continuation of the problem, given that we have experienced successive years of skills shortages now.


Jobs with the highest percentage of vacancies that were ‘hard to fill’ in the past year

Rank Job Title % of vacancies that are ‘hard to fill’ Average Annual Salary
1 Optometrist 68.79 £50,000
2 Solicitor 51.4 £45,000
3 Surgeon 46.32 £41,000
4 Software Engineer 41.8 £40,000
5 Software Architect 41.78 £70,000
6 Front End Developer 40.31 £42,500
7 System Engineer 40.24 £37,500
8 Flight Attendant 40.06 £23,000
9 Software Test Engineer 39.86 £40,000
10 Full Stack Developer 39.76 £47,500



In the first list of roles provided by Indeed, that highlights those job titles that have suffered most from a long term inability to attract the right people, I do get that they have the double challenge of being both niche and suffering from a shortage of available talent in the market, but these roles have appeared in the top 25 most in-demand jobs for the last 2-3 years or more now and I believe that long term strategies to attract and grow direct from education, as well as cross-training people where possible, are required.

Business needs to come to terms with the fact that this is the status quo while we enjoy low levels  of unemployment within high tech and innovative environments

As a short term fix, companies will need to be more aggressive and dynamic in their approach to recruiting the talent that is out there, being more competitive on salary/package and certainly they will need to up their game and wow applicants throughout the application process. In most cases, there is some suitable talent available, but in order to deliver a successful recruitment campaign, organisations are going to need to do more to get found and then persuade those individuals to join their organisation. They will need to adapt and influence candidates to believe that it is their opportunity that stands out.

Indeed have also determined which roles have the highest number of ‘hard to fill’ postings and this presents a slightly different set of challenges that are for most companies a little easier to address.

Mainstream roles, such as ‘Cleaners’ account for almost 3% of the jobs currently listed on Indeed that are classed as ‘hard to fill’. However, a total of 11.53% of all cleaner jobs are being classed as ‘hard to fill,’ because the overall quantity of available and experienced cleaners is the issue placing this relatively unskilled role at the top of the list.

Support staff make up 2.15% of ‘hard to fill’ jobs, chefs make up 2.06% and customer service representatives come in with 1.91%, while care assistants complete the top five, making up 1.677% of all ‘hard to fill’ jobs listed.


Jobs with the highest proportion of all ‘hard to fill’ postings in the UK in the past year

Rank Job Title Jobs with the most ‘hard to
fill’roles(by % market share)
Average Annual Salary
1 Cleaner 2.95 £16,640
2 Support Staff 2.15 £17,680
3 Chef 2.06 £18,408
4 Customer Service Representative 1.91 £18,000
5 Care Assistant 1.68 £18,221
6 Customer Assistant 1.60 £19,396
7 Registered Nurse 1.12 £35,360
8 Server 1.05 £17,722
9 Delivery Driver 1.00 £18,616
10 Sales Assistant 0.97 £16,432



Among many of the roles where candidates are proving most elusive are actually entry-level jobs and what could be considered generalist positions.

Given there is already difficulty in filling these roles, there is rising concern among employers that post-Brexit constraints on the ability of EU citizens to work in the UK could make it even harder for British bosses to source workers.

Businesses will need to make sure that their recruitment teams are operating as effectively as they could, maximising exposure of jobs, through more expansive and more intelligent online advertising, influencing applicants to apply and then operating more efficiently, while nurturing and coercing individuals through the selection process.

Smaller companies should consider investing in recruitment management systems in order to compete for the best talent.


3 month free trial 3 month free trial, recruiting software


About the author

Mark Stephens

Mark Stephens has over 20 years of business management experience, across Sales, Marketing, Recruitment and Technology environments. Mark is a recent winner of the Chambers of Commerce award for innovation in business. He is a serial entrepreneur and is the founder of several companies including Smart Recruit Online and The HR & Recruitment Resource Library.

Mark has established a reputation for his passion and enthusiasm over twenty years working in the recruitment industry, both client and agency side. For the last seven years he has been researching the recruitment landscape from both a technology and people perspective. His insights into market trends are often used and quoted across the industry’s leading publications.

Mark also delivers keynote talks and training to recruitment teams in both public and private sector organisations, on writing better advertising copy, targeting passive candidates and understanding candidate behaviours online.

Connect with Mark Stephens on LinkedIn


Offering support for both recruiters and on-site HR workforces, Smart Recruit Online helps businesses find and hire the best talent more efficiently. To see how SRO can improve your talent acquisition, campaign management, and candidate screening workflows, book a demo today. 

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Mark Stephens

Mark has established a reputation for his passion and enthusiasm over twenty years working in the recruitment industry, both client and agency side. For the last ten years, he has been researching the HR & Recruitment landscape from both a technology and people perspective. A previous winner of the prestigious Chambers – Innovation in Business award, Mark is a serial entrepreneur and is the founder of Smart Recruit Online Ltd, CareersPage Ltd, The HR Resource Library and Corporate Wellness & Mental Health UK Ltd. His company, Smart Recruit Online, has been the winner of 7 national and international awards in the last 18 months for recruitment innovation. Mark has dedicated his time since 2007 researching the online HR & Recruitment sector from a user, technology, and candidate behaviour perspective, and is regularly published and quoted by leading industry publications for his research and personal opinions.

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