The Skills Conundrum


by Amanda McCulloch

26th February 2019

Skilled People. It's the topic that comes up most frequently in my client meetings. Finding skilled people is a priority for the businesses that are recruiting today, but it is also a concern of the business owners who know they will need to hire in the mid to long term future too. "Where will I find the skilled people we need?", "What will we have to do to recruit and then retain skilled people?" And of even greater concern, "There just aren't the skilled people we need out there."

Experienced business people and in-house recruiters are increasingly concerned about the return of a counter-offer culture with inflated salaries used to recruit and retain staff.

We can identify with this, reporting in our most recent North East Salary Guide that fewer immediately available job seekers, in conjunction with more job choice, are making it harder for employers to source skilled and experienced professionals across our specialisms, from Finance to Trades to IT.

This opinion was reinforced by research published in the AGCC Oil and Gas Survey, with 1 in 3 firms looking to increase their UK workforce by 10% or more this year and 44% of firms reporting at least one skill to be in short supply.

How will the supply of skills be sustained if economic, commercial and operational conditions facilitate the production of oil reserves from the UKCS for the next 20 years?

The industry is notoriously cyclic, and I imagine this makes it very difficult to model future employment and skills requirements with certainty. But it is essential work and building on their joint report, The UKCS Workforce Dynamics Review, OPITO and the RGU Oil and Gas Institute has collected data from a wide range of industry professionals to assess the changing skills demand between now and 2025. This research will contribute to the UKCS Skills Strategy.

Good recruitment practice has a role to play in helping to solve the skills conundrum too:

1. Increase the number of entry level positions

If your business can support quality apprenticeships, training or mentoring then consider increasing the number of entry level positions you recruit into your business. I acknowledge, this requires long-term investment but you'll be developing your own talent pipeline, as in only a few short years these people will be ready to take on promoted posts. If you are determined that it is graduate qualified new starts you require don't get too hung up on where they studied. High achievers, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, may attend less prestigious universities which have no correlation whatsoever to their abilities.

2. Tap into the Gig economy



Short term contracts, temporary and freelance work are appealing to a growing number of experienced professionals seeking flexibility – making them a good choice for project specific, knowledge sharing work.

3. Hire for attitude, train for skills

OK, this one can't be attributed across the board as certain professions do require specialist skills. But where that's not the case, or the skills can be taught in-house, attitude is key and can broaden your candidate pool significantly. Use resourcing criteria that selects for high potential and then develop through training. Taking this approach can also positively impact inclusion in the workplace as there tends to be more socio-economic diversity across your employees.

4. Recruitment process

Without realising it, unconscious bias can creep into recruitment practice. What would happen to your short-list of candidates if you removed information such as the person's name from the application process (gender bias)? Could using a diverse team of people to make hiring decisions inject new perspectives to your resourcing? And have you tried applying for one of your own vacancies recently? The user experience is increasingly critical and if people find your recruitment process intimidating or confusing they'll start to question whether they want to work for your business at all.

5. Acknowledge the importance of transferable soft skills

I read on Linkedin recently that 57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. This is surely a reflection of the connected, collaborative culture that surrounds the world of work, where success is intrinsically linked with employee engagement and productivity or customer satisfaction. But this isn't always reflected in recruitment practice. So often we hear of people who have been recruited into manager positions because of their ability to do the hard skills element of their job very well, only to find that their soft skills, such as confidence building, creativity, collaboration, adaptability, time management and people management, are not yet well enough developed for their new people management role.

6. Offer flexibility and family friendly policies

Flexible working is the most sought-after benefit for employees. Your business could challenge the concept of the drearily overused "work/life balance". In today's working world there really is no such thing, life doesn't stop while you are in work and work often spills over into home life. How far could you take flexibility – could the job be done in a different city by taking advantage of communication and file sharing technology? It doesn't have to be that dramatic, flexible working hours can be particularly attractive to experienced workers with children or other caring responsibilities, potentially retaining skilled people in your workforce.

This article was also published in the Spring edition of Business Now magazine.

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