Did you know that according to the Government’s own figures from November last year, there were around 1.9 million vacancies in the UK, and about the same number of unemployed people who could theoretically fill them (but didn’t)?
What this shows is that the skills shortage isn’t simply about not having enough people to physically fill posts. There are deeper issues at work here, principally around the fit between employers’ needs and prospective candidates’ skill sets, but also around how employers attract talent in what is still very much a job-seeker’s market.
On the first point, we’re proud to be a prime mover in the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) programme, and on the second we’ve gained some fascinating insight from a recruiter within our own membership that could well help employers to recruit more effectively in these skills-straitened times.
Both are explored here.
Backing the skills employers need
LSIP is all about giving employers a much stronger voice in the technical and vocational education and training that local Further Education (FE) institutions provide, to address the skills shortage at its very source.
Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes Chambers, was chosen as one of the designated leads for the development of the LSIP for the South-East Midlands region, and we’ve been busy working on it since November 2022.
Capturing local employers’ views in polls, questionnaires and focus groups, setting up local LSIP events, working closely with colleges, other FE providers and a host of key stakeholders, have all been part of the mix, demonstrating our determination to put the needs of business at the heart of the skills system.
And it’s important to understand that these skills needs will have the ear of Government. The LSIP report, which will be completed by summer 2023, will feed into the national Levelling Up White Paper, and funding is being made available to the FE sector to ensure effective changes are realistically attainable.
Hidden skills employers miss
But it’s not just us as an organisation that are working hard to address the skills shortage – our members are doing their bit too.
Kenect Recruitment’s Stuart Amies recently sat down with us to explain why, these days more than ever, recruiting employees has to be about more than just filling a post.
He visits employers’ offices, for example, to learn more about how the company works, and how the candidate will fit into its plans for growth. Often, these conversations turn the employer’s perception of the recruitment – and skills – need on its head.
If they’re typically looking for short-term workers to fill an immediate need, for example, there’s often a tendency to bring in people almost randomly and call the job done. But Stuart maintains this is often missing a trick; he advises firms on how they can build more targeting and loyalty into this temp base, as nurturing temps’ skills today can help solve longer-term recruitment problems tomorrow.
Identifying transferable skills is another way Stuart has often been able to discover a hidden fit between the candidate ‘spec’ employers are nominally looking for and those the candidate can actually offer.
He cited the recent case of how carefully interviewing a warehouse worker who had never worked in any other role, but who was rich in skills – organisation, time management, teamwork – revealed he was suited to an alternative role in logistics (a role Stuart subsequently placed him in successfully).
So, whilst the skills shortage as a demographic and economic phenomenon is of course very real, employers’ (and recruiters’) openness to a smarter and more flexible interpretation of what constitutes skills in the first place can help surmount the shortfall.
Training – standardisation is needed
Employers need to place more emphasis on building their recruits’ careers, Stuart says, but one of the challenges with employers who invest in training is that they often tend to run programmes that are not recognised outside their own company.
Get a few thousand businesses doing it this way and it’s not surprising that there’s a perceived skills shortage on the open market. Employers need to ensure their training has value outside their organisation, otherwise its lack of recognition in the skills market reduces skills ‘liquidity’, and – ultimately – hurts everyone.
Equally, though, he observes that some employers are actively creating obstacles to successful recruitment, through unnecessary procedures. For some roles, he explains, it simply isn’t necessary to put an individual through the same background checks or rigorous interview processes that accompany some other roles.
Recruitment should be diligent, but you need to know where to draw the line.
Skills shortage: we’re in it for the long haul
Today’s skills shortage has been long in the making and won’t be reversed overnight.
And as with any long-term endeavour, strong leadership, steadfast partnership, and connection to the right expertise are all vital in enabling those fighting the fight to stay the distance and turn the corner.
The long and the short of it is that this is exactly what we at Bedfordshire Chambers of Commerce are doing – for our members, for our business community, for our region, and for the job applicants of tomorrow.
For more information on how Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce works to represent your business’s views locally, regionally, nationally, and in Government – as well as connect you to like-minded peers, prospects, and suppliers – visit www.chamber-business.com, or call 01582 522448