Get a group of HR people together in a room and it won’t be too long before the subject of skills shortages comes up. The economy has picked up – and the war for talent is back with a vengeance. Good people are at a premium and, with headhunters on the phone or connecting through LinkedIn on a daily basis, businesses are struggling to keep hold of their best people.

It’s a serious concern for UK plc as a whole. Figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) show that skills shortage vacancies have been on the rise since 2011. And in a recent survey for the Princes Trust, 73 per cent of British businesses said they believed a significant skills crisis was on the horizon.

So what can HR people do to make sure their companies attract and retain the people the business needs to keep the wheels turning today and to remain competitive tomorrow?

Take the temperature

Just how engaged are your people? Are your employees motivated and enthusiastic about their work? Do they feel valued by their line manager? Are they willing to go the extra mile when needed? There’s a tendency for organisations to rely on the annual employee performance review as a barometer of how their people are thinking and feeling. But in a fast-paced world, things can change very quickly and how your key performers were feeling a year ago could be very different to how they are feeling today.

More frequent and more focused performance reviews, and discussions about where individual employees see their career heading can help pick up little niggles and tackle them before they turn into big issues – and it allows managers to keep people in the loop about where the business is headed and the role they can play. Bring managers together and ask them to tell you who they value most, and who they think is at risk and why. That way you can involve them in making decisions about how best to retain and develop the people the whole business needs. Make sure you conduct exit interviews, so you can see if there are any recurring reasons for employees moving on.

Grow your own

Training budgets have taken a beating in recent years, but investing in the development of the people you already have is vital. It can be quicker and less expensive than bringing new people in from outside – and it’s been shown to build commitment and engagement among existing employees. Training doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to mean ‘losing’ key staff for days at a time to go on courses – but it does need HR to take the lead.

Map out the skills your business needs (now and for the next couple of years), audit the skills you have, then plan activities that match. For example, if you need to bring through new managers mentoring or job shadowing can be effective. If familiarity with new and emerging technologies is important, look at lunch-time learning bites where experienced staff (which may include your new intake of digital natives) can share their skills. If more formal, specialist training is needed, consider sharing with other local companies in similar sectors and investigate what’s available on-line.

Use what you’ve got

During the difficult economic times of previous years, people took any job they could get, often regardless of how well it matched their skill set or level of experience. As a result, companies typically have people sitting in roles that are way below their potential. It’s estimated that as many as 48 per cent of people are in fact in jobs that don’t match their ability. Do you have a clear idea of the skills you really have in house? Are you making the best use of the employees you already have under your roof? Consider doing a simple skills audit to find out what hidden talents your people may be harbouring. You could well find that the answer to your skills shortages are right under your nose.

Get clever about recruitment

Recruiting new people is expensive and it often takes a long time. The rise of social media and free job boards has however provided businesses with an opportunity to supplement conventional recruitment activities with more just-in-time attraction activity. Does your company have strong presence on LinkedIn? If not, get it sorted! It’s often the first place potential candidates go to check you out. Take a look at how you rank in Glassdoor, and don’t forget the careers pages on your website either. Are you in B2C? It might be worth using your corporate Facebook page or Twitter account to get the word out about job opportunities. Are you using the latest candidate tracking technology respond to applicants quickly, and keep in touch with people who’ve expressed interest in working with you in the past? Are you mobilising your employees with ‘recommend a friend’ incentives or at the very least encouraging them to share vacancies in their own networks? Recruitment consultants, paid for job boards and advertising still have their place, but make sure you are using all the social communication mechanisms at your disposal to get across the message that your business is a great place to work.

It’s never too soon…

Recruitment is often a knee-jerk reaction. Business is growing and suddenly you urgently needs more hands on deck. A key staff member has jumped ship and you need to quickly fill the gap. However, it’s never too early to start engaging with young people and planting the seed about the opportunities you could offer them in the future. So be open to requests for work experience from your local school, take part in career fairs and give talks about opportunities in your industry. Build links with colleges and universities. Offer meaningful placements and internships. Consider apprenticeships as a route to moulding future talent and growing the skills you need for the future. Who knows, the young person you give a first step to today could be one of your star performers in the future.

Is your business feeling the skills shortage? What strategies do you have in place to attract and retain the best people? Let us have your views.

See more information about people management software here.

You may be interested in reading: 5 business reasons to put employee career development at the top of your people management agenda

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.