More warnings this week about skills shortages in the shape of a report from the CBI and Pearson that suggests the UK’s economic growth could be seriously undermined if action isn’t taken to address the growing gap.

More than half the firms questioned for the research feared not being able to access enough workers with the skills they need in the near future. Demand for highly skilled workers is predicted to be particularly strong in business-critical sectors such as engineering, science, hi-tech, construction, and manufacturing.

There’s no doubt that employers will be facing a recruitment headache over the next few years and will have to work hard to attract the best talent in a fiercely competitive market. But a recent report from the CIPD suggests part of the solution may be right under their noses.

Illustration of a man with a plant on his head

Instead of automatically looking to hire externally when they are expanding or need new skills, companies could make more efforts to ‘grow’ the talent they already have in-house. “In the ‘make or buy’ debate, the ‘buy’ decision still seems to predominate, but hiring new talent is just part of the solution for addressing skills shortages. Once people are in a role, they still require ongoing development to achieve their full potential and meet ever-changing and critical skill needs,” says Jessica Cooper, Research Adviser at the CIPD.

If your business is struggling with a skills ‘emergency’ and wants to strike a better balance between external hiring and internal development, with or without an HR software – here are some questions you need to ask:

Are you training people for the right things?

It’s surprising how many organisations persist in maintaining the status quo with training programmes that are out-of-date and not actually delivering the skills the business needs. Take a step back and look at how closely your training strategy mirrors the business strategy. How is the market you are operating in likely to change over the next few years? Are the skills your people have now the skills they will need in the not-too-distant future? If your business is to remain ahead of the game, you need to map current and future skills gaps and start developing people now to fill them.

Do line managers see developing people as a priority?

Line managers are often so busy juggling day-to-day demands that the critical task of developing their teams gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. At a time when budgets are tight, promised training often doesn’t happen, and the on-the-job coaching that could bring people on is rarely seen as a priority. Managers are often recruited for their technical expertise and don’t necessarily have the know-how to nurture and develop their people. They need support in having the critical career conversations that will provide an insight into the aspirations of their team, training needs that haven’t been fulfilled and hidden talents that are not currently being exploited.

Are you making the most of the generational mix?

Demographic and societal changes mean that over 50s are set to play an increasingly important role in the workforce. People are generally living longer and thanks to the abolition of the default retirement age, they often want and need to work longer than previously. This key group of employees are, however, often overlooked because of ingrained negative attitudes towards more mature workers. The truth is that over 50s have valuable knowledge and expertise, are thirsty for learning and development and are just as capable of learning new skills as their younger counterparts. There is also much to be said for ‘growing your own’ talent at the other end of the age spectrum, using apprenticeships to build the skills the business will need in the future.

Do you need to widen your perspective about what talent looks like?

The old adage about recruiting for attitude and training for skills is equally applicable to internal talent. Often, businesses get hung up on what employees can do now and overlook good people who may not have the specific skills they need, but could easily acquire them. Developing talented, capable people who are already in-house is often a lot more cost-effective than recruiting externally. Encourage managers throughout the business to open their minds to what talent looks like. Are they overlooking people in their team who are willing, enthusiastic and have the attitudes and character strengths the business could benefit from?

Are you doing enough to hold onto your good people?

Companies are sometimes so pre-occupied with winning the battle for external talent that they overlook the need to keep the good people they already have continually motivated and engaged. Improving people’s pay and benefits does of course play a part, but employees also need to feel that the business is prepared to invest in their development and sees them as playing a critical role in its future. Communication is key. Make sure you keep employees up-to-date with plans for developing the business going forward and have open, honest dialogue about the opportunities that are likely to emerge and the skills development that will be available to them.

One action to take this week: Conduct a skills audit of the business. Identify the gaps and think about whether you can fill some of them with the talent you already have in house.

References: Resourcing and Talent Planning 2015, CIPD and Hays

You may be interested in reading: Are you making the most of your older workers?

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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.