Stepping Up to the Skills Shortage. What Can You Do Differently?


Debra Timmerman

Vice President, MSP Solutions, Direct Sourcing, Career Transitions and Executive Coaching

The UK Government’s Covid-19 furlough scheme ended on 30 September 2021, triggering thousands of redundancies. But despite an influx of people into the employment market, many businesses are struggling to find the people and skills they need. And this isn’t a UK-specific challenge; we’re seeing the same story across Europe, the US, and the wider global market. The numbers tell us there are people to fill roles, but some businesses are still coming up against big obstacles.

Many of our clients are facing similar challenges: Candidates are moving off the market before they can blink. Pay rates are trending ever higher. Available skills don’t match the skills they need. And turnover is a constant challenge.

So, what’s going on?

There seems to be a significant difference between the number of available workers and the types of candidates that organisations want to hire – an expectations mismatch. I believe we have to change hiring practices and perspectives to bridge that gap; that by taking a more inclusive stance and focusing on upskilling, organisations can successfully engage and retain great talent.

Engage the hidden workforce

Many people face barriers to work. They may not have a traditional educational background. They may have a minor criminal record. Some may face challenges because of disability. It’s easy for restrictive hiring criteria to hide candidates from view and prevent them from engaging with opportunities. I was recently lucky enough to attend the TIARA Talent Solutions Awards and hear Fuschia Carter, Candidate Care Consultant at HSBC, talk with incredible passion about the huge number of deaf and disabled people in the UK that are employable but unemployed (the ONS puts this number at 400,000). There is huge opportunity here—not only in the UK but around the world—to engage people who don’t fit the usual candidate profile and can bring incredible diversity of thought and experience into an organisation. At Kelly, our Equity@Work programme helps break down barriers to work, but there is always more to do. Truly understanding hiring criteria and cutting out irrelevant requirements is a vital part of removing invisible obstacles.

Know your brand is not enough

Historically, some brands could sit back and wait for talent to knock on their door. This just isn’t the case anymore—whatever your brand power. We are starting to see some change in how talent leaders engage with the market (particularly in the contingent hiring space), but many aren’t moving quickly enough, or continue to overestimate the power of their brand name in attracting talent. Candidates are in demand and it’s vital that organisations engage with talent proactively and can articulate how their offering stands out from the market. This doesn’t mean simply dialing up salaries and hourly rates, though it’s important to offer competitive pay; more and more candidates are looking for a sense of purpose and meaning. How can you link your culture and mission to the roles you’re hiring for?

Upskilling and reskilling has never been more important

As the furlough scheme wraps up, we’re seeing large numbers of skilled workers entering the marketplace. They are great candidates for reskilling, but a narrow view of who can do a role well can prevent them from getting through the earliest stages of the application process. Reskilling and upskilling both internal and external talent are vital parts of responding to the ongoing talent shortages. Though some roles have (quite rightly) very stringent frameworks, others are hugely teachable when boiled down to their key components. This focus on skills is also essential in reinforcing a sense of purpose for existing talent and improving retention rates. No career should be static and every worker should feel they are on a development journey. Our recent Global Workforce Agility Report found that 52% of the most successful organisations are focused on upskilling/reskilling permanent talent.

There is no doubt that we are in a tough talent market. Covid-19. IR35. Shifting worker expectations. Brexit. They can all make searching for talent with the right skills feel like an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean that organisations should sit back and do what they’ve always done. It’s vital to think and act differently – whether that’s rewriting role criteria, simplifying hiring processes, rethinking the candidate communities you target, or any other aspect of the way you engage talent. The skills shortage is accelerating talent innovation, and businesses who lean into this new way of hiring will come out on top.


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