People & Leadership

How to ensure your business gets the skills it needs

It’s no secret that skills shortages have become a pretty serious threat to British business and the economy.

This issue has come into even sharper focus in the wake of the Brexit vote, with many employers concerned that tighter immigration controls could make it harder to bring in talented workers from EU countries.

The April 2017 Report on Jobs from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and Markit revealed that candidate availability in the UK had fallen to a 16-month low. Recruiters warned of shortages of suitable applicants for more than 60 roles across various sectors.

According to a report from law firm Eversheds Sutherland and market research company Winmark, the ‘war for talent’ and skills shortages are currently the most pressing concerns for HR leaders.

It’s clear that this is a considerable challenge and employers need to find a way to overcome it. So what are the specific actions and measures your organisation can put in place to maximise its chances of acquiring the skills it needs?

Find out what people really want

In order to make your organisation attractive to the most talented workers, you have to know what your target candidates want and ensure you can give it to them.

Pay and benefits will always be important, of course. In another recent survey by the REC, 42 per cent of employers that had struggled to recruit candidates responded by increasing the salary on offer. However, Kevin Green, chief executive of the recruitment industry body, stressed that “throwing money at the problem isn’t a long-term solution”.

In many cases, applicants will be interested in much more than financial incentives. A study by Office Genie found that the proportion of employees who view bonuses as the most powerful motivation is the same as those who are incentivised by flexible hours (33 per cent). Around a fifth of respondents said a shorter working week (22 per cent) and more praise (18 per cent) would encourage them to work harder.

Essentially, it comes down to understanding the sort of people you want to bring in to your organisation and what drives them. Showing a willingness to be flexible and tailoring benefits and incentives to individuals could make your business much more attractive to talented jobseekers.

Develop from within

Strengthening the skills base within your organisation isn’t always about recruitment. It’s perfectly possible that the raw talent and potential your company needs to grow is already present in the workforce, but just needs some support and nurturing.

If your attempts to find the skills you need in the candidate market aren’t bearing fruit, consider shifting your focus to your existing workforce. Is it possible that focused training and skills development could equip the employees you already have with the additional capabilities the business needs?

One of the big benefits of training up existing staff is that you already know them and they already know you. The risks and financial commitments of taking on a brand new employee are significantly reduced.

In April 2017, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) called on the government to prioritise additional skills funding for the workplace, to avoid the UK “sleepwalking into a low-value, low-skills economy”. It warned that, currently, UK employers are conducting less training and investing less in skills than other major EU economies.

Don’t underestimate older workers

It’s easy to fall into the trap of overlooking a solution to your skills quandary that has been right under your nose all along. One example of this is underestimating the potential of the more senior members of your workforce.

The first assumption might be that older workers can’t match the skills of younger professionals in areas like technology, but becoming entrenched in this sort of thinking could be hugely detrimental to your organisation, particularly in the long term. It has been estimated that, by 2050, over-50s will be the largest participating age group in the workforce.

People who have spent several decades in employment could offer the kinds of soft skills and life experience that are proving increasingly tricky to find in younger generations. It’s difficult to teach these attributes, but it’s perfectly possible to equip someone of any age – particularly today’s increasingly tech-savvy older generation – with enhanced skills in areas like coding.

Gareth Jones, chief information officer and head of labs at people consultancy the Chemistry Group, made this point in a recent article for Tech City News. He wrote: “Tech needs to firstly highlight ageism as the ugly, archaic phenomenon it is, and then secondly move forward to educate tech firms as to the long-term positives that profile-based hiring can bring.”

Collaborate with educational institutions

When it comes to finding a long-term solution to Britain’s skills shortages, one of the most valuable things employers can do is form productive, collaborative partnerships with educational institutions. If the country is to succeed in developing the sustainable pipeline of talent for long-term economic growth, that has to start in schools and universities.

Some employers are already doing their bit to drive skills development on a local level. In an article published in the Guardian in February 2016, Mike Boxall, higher education expert at PA Consulting Group, highlighted the example of the Birmingham Skills Engine.

This alliance of universities, colleges, employers and public bodies from across the Midlands was formed to strengthen the capabilities of the local workforce. On a practical level, the initiative involves sharing resources and new approaches to learning, offering focused career guidance to students and using an online skills exchange to match talented individuals to local opportunities.

Offering some predictions for the future, Mr Boxall said sustainable careers will require “flexible, transferable talents such as complex problem-solving and cross-cultural team working”. He added: “We need to move away from teaching functional skills that are outdated almost as soon as they are learned and focus on real-world learning experiences.”

Addressing skills shortages is one of the biggest tests facing UK businesses, government and educational institutions in the 21st century, but it is a challenge that can be overcome.

Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, said Britain must “take the high road as a nation”, with “government, employers, education and business support groups working in partnership to boost investment in skills and create more high-value, high-productivity workplaces”.