On the 3rd & 4th of May, 2023, the HR Technologies Show brought together the UK’s HR and recruitment community to discuss, deliberate, and deliver the future of HR fuelled by tech.

Held at the glorious ExCel arena in London, the show was a chance for all the big names in HR software and online learning to come together to showcase their platforms and solutions – and this included a team from Cezanne HR. On both days of the event, the Cezanne HR stand was a hive of activity; bristling with HR professionals taking the opportunity to chat our team of experts, and learn more about the features and functionality that have won Cezanne HR a growing legion of fans.

Cezanne HR at the 2023 HR Technologies Show in London

However, the HR Technologies Show wasn’t just about tech – despite its name! The two-day event included a special conference that featured a wide variety of exclusive talks and roundtable discussions on several popular themes from the current HR world; including talent management and recruitment, wellbeing, human capital management and change management.

In addition, there was also a plethora of talks and presentations that took place across the show – it certainly was a packed schedule! In this blog, we’re going to look at one of the more interesting conference seminars we attended, which delved into the hot topic of talent scarcity.

Talent scarcity: how to hire a shrinking workforce

This popular seminar was hosted by Ben Eubanks – a best-selling author, podcaster and HR researcher from Lighthouse Research and Advisory. He began his talk by revealing that Lighthouse’s recent research discovered virtually every business is struggling with hiring the talent they need to drive their organisations forward – especially when it comes to more niche or very specific roles.

The scarcity of available workers is down to three core problems: the first being that the talent pool overall is shrinking. Current data shows us that the current global birth rate is 2.3 births per woman, but in the UK it’s much lower at 1.58. Simply put, there are expected to be fewer people who can work, and finding those with niche or specific skillsets will likely become much more difficult.

Secondly, so-called ‘gig work’ is on the rise. 1 in 7 UK workers partook in some form of gig work in 2021, and this number is expected to increase as people want more control over their lives and diversify their income during uncertain financial times. And thirdly, general demand for skilled workers is skyrocketing, creating a fiercely competitive job market even during the current financial downturn.

Talent scarcity and how to hire a shrinking workforce 2023 HR technologies Show

Ben believes the ability to find the right people is being seen as the biggest danger to businesses in 2024. In fact, it’s seen as an even bigger risk than cyber attacks or data breaches. This is not helped by further research by Lighthouse that uncovered the alarming stat that just one in three workers would stop considering other job offers once accepting a new role! So, what can be done?

Looking beyond the traditional talent pool

When it comes to overcoming the problem of recruiting successfully from a shrinking workforce, Ben believes that every recruiting organisation needs to look beyond the traditional talent pool. Instead, recruiting businesses and their HR teams should focus on people who have perhaps been overlooked or discounted in the past, such as:

Hiring older workers who want a new challenge

It’s no secret that the British population is ageing. As a result, the average age of the workforce is also steadily climbing, and this is something that every industry must adapt to. Plus, it would be wrong to assume that older workers are simply happy to coast along or sit out on the sidelines until it’s time to retire!

Ben argued that looking to more experienced or older workers – such as so-called ‘empty nesters’ – is something every business should consider when looking to recruit for hard-to-fill positions. He cited an example from low-cost airline EasyJet, who launched a successful recruitment drive urging people over the age of 45 to join its cabin crews. It followed research by the airline that found more than 78% of UK adults over 45 said they would like a new challenge once their children had left home.

As a result of their efforts, EasyJet saw a 27% increase in crew aged 45 and over in the past four years, including a 30% increase in over-60s in the past year. They’ve also successfully managed to fill long-standing skills gaps, and maintain their regular services – despite well-publicised industry staff shortages.

Hiring ‘hidden workers’

Ben also highlighted there are many ready and willing workers who can ‘bulk out’ the workforce – but they’re not part of the traditional talent pools. These are the so-called ‘hidden’ workers who in normal situations, recruiters wouldn’t even think about approaching; in particular, hiring workers who are still in prison (but can undertake work-related duties), or those who have served time behind bars.

Ben gave an example of a call centre in the US that looked to prison inmates who wanted to work as part of their ongoing rehabilitation. They were given the opportunity to work for the business in return for a regular wage and the chance to rebuild their lives once they left prison. The scheme proved so successful, that this type of system is now commonplace in the US – and it’s something companies in the UK are now investigating.

Hiring caregivers

Another group of workers who may have been overlooked in the past are caregivers, or employees who’ve perhaps put their careers on hold for a year or more to look after someone. Ben argued that just because someone had put the care of loved ones before work, it didn’t mean they’d given up on having a meaningful or rewarding career – it would often just be too difficult to juggle both a full-time job and care responsibilities at the same time.

Ben stated that there are thousands of employable people in that situation, all with skills and experiences that businesses desperately need right now. However, employers need to do more to encourage them back to the workplace – such as helping to rebuild their workplace relationships and connections, and enhance their skill sets for future career growth.

What about talent retention?

Alongside overcoming the challenges of a shrinking workforce, Ben concluded his talk by talking about the fact that successful staff retention is still also a huge problem. Research by Lighthouse found that more than 50 million people in the US quit their jobs in 2022, with the core reason being that they felt they had no options or prospects in their previous role. Quitting was essentially the last role of the dice, rather than a decision made on a whim.

With that in mind, Ben believes organisations must consider carefully how they’ll look to retain workers brought in from traditionally overlooked backgrounds. He believes that jobs and workplace experiences must come in all different ‘flavours’ – a one-size-fits-all approach to talent retention simply isn’t effective anymore. For example, given that older workers still have a vital role to play in the world of work, organisations should look at how they can effectively engage and retain their older workers as they’re often the ones with the skill sets and experiences most difficult to replace.

In summary, Ben believes that there are 4 key areas businesses must look at when developing effective retention strategies. These include:

Working harder to retain critical skills and experiences

If a business is going to hold onto the skills and experiences they need to flourish, they must make sticking with the business as attractive as possible. This doesn’t just come down to competitive salaries and benefits, though: HR teams must look at critical elements of the employee experience – such as career advancement, reward and recognition, and supporting positive working environments – and develop effective people strategies to support them.

Actively retaining business-minded talent

Along with making the workplace an attractive place to stick with, Ben also believes employers must do more to engage with employees who are business minded. Creative and business-minded employees can be incredibly difficult to find in a shrinking talent pool, so organisations must look at ways to prevent them from leaving prematurely, and taking their ideas and business-orientated thinking elsewhere.

Look to automation when talent is scarce

The simple fact of the matter is that, with less employees to go round, companies must look at how automation can better support the employees they do have. In HR for example, businesses should look at automating many of the menial, repetitive tasks HR professionals are often held back by – such as approving absence requests, managing employee documentation and collating information for regular reporting.

When employees don’t have to worry about devoting their time and energies to activities that can’t be ignored, but aren’t really adding value, they can look to work on more strategic, value-added tasks.

Technology must help support meaningful human interactions

Lastly, Ben closed his talk on making the point that, although technology is incredibly important in virtually every aspect of workforce operations, it shouldn’t replace important human interactions.

Technology – such as HR software – can be a valuable tool for supporting human interactions by facilitating communication, enhancing productivity, enabling more effective remote working practices and fostering collaboration. By leveraging technology in these ways, individuals and organisations can benefit from more successful collaborations and stronger relationships.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.