Get a group of HR people together in a room and it won’t be too long before the subject of the current skills shortage comes up.

Despite worries about the slowing economy, the war for talent remains as fierce as ever. The Great Resignation is still in full swing and good people are at a premium. With head-hunters regularly on the phone or connecting with targets through LinkedIn on a daily basis, businesses are struggling to keep hold of their best people.

It’s a serious concern for businesses here in the UK, made worse by the fact we’re in the grips of an ever-growing skills shortage. A recently published report from The Open University stated that the UK skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3 billion and 91% of organisations have struggled to find the right staff with the right skills.

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The OU’s report coincided with the updating of the Government’s shortage occupations list. Aside from the well-publicised shortage of workers for the healthcare and haulage sectors, the list has now grown to include IT programmers, IT developers, web designers, web development professionals and civil engineers of virtually every speciality.

Given that both the skills shortage and Great Resignation are not expected to end any time soon, what can people professionals do to make sure their companies attract and retain the people they need both now and in the future?

Keep your finger on the pulse

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 annual engagement surveys as barometers of how their people are thinking and feeling. But in a fast-paced world, things can change very quickly. How your key performers were feeling a year ago could be very different to how they are feeling today.

Frequent and focused pulse surveys can help HR teams get quick, targeted feedback from employees about specific issues within a business. They can be extremely useful in helping track employee engagement and sentiment throughout a year – meaning you can gain a ‘real time’ insight into what employees are thinking.

With every business under pressure retain their best staff and attract the brightest talent, pulse surveys can help you tackle a wide range of subjects, from overall job satisfaction to engagement and trust. With the information you gather, you can look to improve the employee experience for your current employees, and also make your organisation a more attractive proposition for new job seekers.

Don’t forget performance reviews

Along with employee surveys, you shouldn’t forget annual performance reviews. Holding regular performance reviews and discussions about where individual employees see their careers heading can help pick up little niggles and tackle them before they turn into big issues. They can also allow 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 employees

Training budgets may 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. Plus, as our research has shown, it’s been shown to support successful cultures, 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. It does, however, 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 lunchtime 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.

Give purpose to the employees you have

A report by McKinsey last year found that over 70% of employees said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work. In short, employees – regardless of their position within a business – expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. Employers need to help meet this expectation, or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will.

If you have difficult-to-fill positions within your business, 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 shortage is right under your nose and there are employees willing to step up and take on new challenges.

Eliminate unconscious bias

Your own company may want to foster and build an inclusive culture, but given the ferocity of the job market, could unconscious bias be getting in the way?

Although we all may have our own unconscious biases, when it comes to recruiting a diverse workforce for your company, it can be a huge burden. HR needs to do all it can to create a level playing field when it comes to attracting diverse talent. You can do this by analysing the different stages of your organisation’s hiring cycle and seeing which areas can be better aligned with your own DEI policies.

Also, are your interview panels typically diverse, made up of people with different perspectives and demographic profiles? More diverse panels not only help to convey the message that the company values DEI, they also lead to more diverse hiring decisions.

Lastly, good HR systems can give you the data you need to track, analyse and improve your organisation’s diversity performance. It will highlight areas where action is needed and can support decision making. You can read more about this subject in this article.

Get clever about recruitment

Recruiting new people is expensive and it often takes a long time – especially during a skills shortage! 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.

Also, are you using the latest recruitment software that includes applicant tracking systems to 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 to a sudden or urgent need for more hands on deck. For example, 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.

With that in mind, be open to requests for work experience from your local school, take part in career fairs and give talks about opportunities in your industry. Consider building links with colleges and universities or offer meaningful placements and internships. You could even think about 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…

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.

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