• Sharon Seville

Skills crisis: Recruitment is going wrong. Let’s fix it!

You could say it’s a case of desperate times call for desperate measures, and while the skills shortage is certainly causing many employers to feel desperate, I’d say that’s not necessary. What I would say is that the skills crisis needs us to stop doing things in the same old way expecting a different outcome. As they say, that way madness lies. It’s imperative that we start to think about the skills crisis differently, or, more precisely, our solution to it.


The skills crisis on the ground

Described as “not quite the Black Death” by The Guardian, our post-pandemic skill shortages (which threw down their tendrils well before we first heard of Covid ), are worrying. It’s not just hyperbole. Statistics are difficult to verify because every industry and business tends to focus on their own issues. But the skills crisis isn’t industry-specific, although it’s more notable in some than others. Before the pandemic even properly threw a spanner in the works, more than half of UK businesses were experiencing skills shortages.


While once, not too long ago, a hiring manager’s desk would be buried under high-quality CV’s the minute they published a vacancy, now data reveals that all sectors from IT and Manufacturing to Healthcare and Retail are getting 45% fewer applications per vacancy. As The Guardian reports, in early 2020 there would be, on average, four unemployed people for every vacancy, now there is only one, and this is even before you begin to consider the individual recruit you want and need.


There’s no one single reason for the intensity of the skills shortage either, which makes it even more difficult for employers to grapple with. There is a huge issue of supply and demand when it comes to jobs. Employers are on the hunt for staff to fuel post-pandemic growth at a time when workers have taken themselves out of the market due to greater numbers leaving the UK, young people spending longer in education and older people leaving the workforce altogether. But it’s more than this. We are failing to develop skills in our workforce too.


Solutions lie closer than you think

Skills shortages pose significant threats to growth and security. However, while it’s possible to pull apart the data to expose the state of the skills shortage, what we’re not adequately looking at is how to fix it – for individual businesses.

And the reality is that there are simple things that employers are doing which are, inadvertently I’m sure, making their skills problems more profound. It’s in these areas that employers need to learn how to operate within the skills shortages so that they gain competitive advantage.


Across my experience, I’ve identified 3 ways in which employers are making the situation harder when it comes to tackling skills shortages. Here they are, along with my solutions.


1. Stop screening out for lack of experience


Recent research has revealed that 88% of hiring managers screen out candidates because of lack of experience. On the face of it, it’s easy to understand why. But, the same research reveals that screening for experience reduces the size and diversity of the talent pool and we know that diversity is good for business in a multitude of bottom-line ways.


Instead, employers would do better to screen for potential. Look for capability.

Part of a candidate’s potential is their experience, but only a 'part'. Experience is a linear measure which just so happens to put the restricted same old candidates in front of you. This is particularly important in some areas more than others, for example digital skills. Skills can be taught, they are often transferrable, and you won’t always get what you want by poaching a like-for-like from a competitor.


It’s essential to turn to modern hiring practices that grow your talent pool and promote diversity. There are some real benefits to this, not least that you may find that these candidates are considerably more cost-effective than paying through the nose for a candidate simply because there aren’t many out there like them. It’s scary to do things differently, and that’s when a partnership with a dedicated and experienced head-hunter can help.


2. Keep existing staff happy and invest in them


Without wishing to diddle myself out of a job, I’ve said this before, it’s almost always easier and more cost-effective to invest in the staff you’ve got. It’s not always possible of course, but strategic succession and workforce planning is vital to tackle how the skills crisis affects your business. At the moment, employers are making a big mistake by not investing enough in their existing workers.


This becomes particularly important when you’ve developed an individual to possess the skills you need. You don’t want them upping and leaving, taking those skills away. You also don’t want to lose them because you didn’t realise they were unhappy, needed more flexibility, were worried about cost of living rises or because you weren’t even aware of issues they felt were holding them back.


Increasing holiday allowances and offering flexible/hybrid working are two really simple things that employers can do that are reasonably inexpensive but can make a big difference to keeping your employees on side.


Happy engaged workers are motivated and productive and the employers that recognise this can go some way to tackling their skills shortages from within.


3. Don’t wait for others to upskill for you


Closely related to this, data supports that employers are increasingly waiting for others to address the skills crisis for them. We want university graduates coming to us with greater digital skills, we want government sponsored retraining opportunities, and we also (if we admit it) would rather someone else invested in training someone for us. These strategies have their place, but employers can’t rely on them.


For example, analysis by the New Economic Forum (NEF) reveals that the £500m post-furlough investment by the government under the current UK skills policy is simply not enough.


Andrew Neil, one of the speakers at the National Manufacturing Conference this year reiterated this in his speech. He said,

"you need to do it for yourselves, you need to invest in your staff because no one else is going to do it for you."

He went on to say why you should be doing it despite talk of recession is because,

“…in the last decade there has been a dearth of innovation but the ‘post pandemic era’ will be a turning point.”

His example of that turning point went back to the 1920’s which boomed when electricity prompted investors and inventors to develop the likes of washing machines, hoovers etc which sparked an economic and social revolution. It changed the face of our economy and with the development of batteries, AI, robotics etc, this technology will do for the 2020’s what the household appliances did for the 1920’s.

"With the right skills, and the right investment, this can be a decade of growth."

So, realising that it may be necessary to give the skills to your workers for your benefit will be vital as part of your approach to the skills shortage.


It’s different, but it’s worthwhile

Shaking up your recruitment practices, by considering potential over experience, and then investing in that potential, may be a radical approach. But it’s really worthwhile. Employers can’t sit around waiting for the powers that be to fix the skills shortage. Instead, they need to operate within it to their best advantage.


As always, I’m here to help employers within Manufacturing and Engineering to navigate their leadership needs and ensure strategic outcomes are delivered.


Keep an eye out for our next article which will be published early June.


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