We often hear that there is a ‘War for Talent’ (a term first coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey in 1997) and that we are currently in the midst of a severe talent shortage which will be further exacerbated by the potential future exodus of European nationals as Brexit starts to bite, but how bad is it? The UK currently is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate since 2005 which is good news but with the air of Brexit uncertainty overhanging our economy; those who are already in employment are often reluctant to move jobs.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK has an increasing population and a healthy pool of people of working age, which reported that from Feb-April 2017 the population of working age people (aged 16-64) who are economically active numbered 32,610,000 with only 1,483,000 classified as being unemployed. In April 2017 alone, the ONS reported that there were 770,000 job vacancies in the UK in April 2017 alone. According to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills the UK has a talent shortage in the science, technology, engineering and maths with 43% of vacancies being hard to fill and that an additional 1.8 million engineers will be required by 2025 (Engineering UK research).
It’s obvious to see that it will take a multi-pronged approach to plug the UK skills gap. The government's 'Get In, Go Far' apprenticeship initiative which was launched in August 2014 and aims to increase the number of apprentices to 3 million by 2020 is a great start, especially since it incentives employers to train apprentices by offering smaller firms financial assistance. However it has already been shown that much needs to be done to change existing public perception that the apprenticeship route is somehow ‘second rate’ compared to the traditional university and professional route with even Goldman Sachs initially experiencing a low take-up upon launch of their scheme. They have since remedied this by offering candidates a five year degree-based apprenticeship.
We need to re-think the way that we view qualifications and employability and ensure that the workforce has skills for life which also address the needs of employers, with vocational skills and technical skills ranked alongside professional skills. Good work has already started in several UK regional hubs with universities and employers forming links that address local skills shortages. The Birmingham Skills Engine is one such alliance whilst the University of Northampton has developed social enterprise partnerships.
Unconscious bias against certain groups of people can also create a false impression that there are less well suited candidates in the market than there really is. Firms such as EY, who introduced a 'blind CV' policy for trainee applicants in a bid to broaden the talent pool and increase diversity are leading the charge in this space with an additional 18% of graduates and school leavers being now eligible to apply. Policies such as these enhance the company's brand whilst assisting with social mobility.
Companies should also take a look at their current learning and development strategy to enhance the skills of their existing workforce and provide opportunities for those in lower-skilled roles to ‘skill up’ in areas where they may be facing skills shortages. In the long-term this also has the additional benefit of retaining existing employees and creating a more engaged and resilient workforce.
The recruitment process should also be revisited and scrutinized as lengthy processes can create a delay in the on-boarding of much needed professionals, with some firms even having a 10 stage process! Clearly, only the most committed (and patient) candidate will stay with a process this long and firms run the risk of losing talent to rivals who take a more pragmatic, but no less rigorous, approach to recruitment. Matters can often be further exacerbated by hiring managers who sometimes hold out for the perfect candidate.
Its clear that the War for Talent is being waged on all fronts and that we will need to approach it by being both pragmatic and open-minded.