Skills Shortage! What Skills Shortage?

We hear of the shocking reported statistic that apparently one in five 16 to 24 year olds are out of work and that on average 85 graduates are chasing every job; there would also appear to be a staggering number of unemployed people but the precise, true number of those seeking employment or working well below their capacity may be far greater and never be known.   At the same time we hear of employers not being able to find skilled staff and through involvement with local LEPs I have personally, surprisingly learnt that a survey revealed a perceived shortage of basic skills.

There is no doubt that matching and incentivising tertiary education resource to longer term job market demands would have a significant impact on a skills shortage, but, desperate though the need is, I defer this to educationalists and politicians who are bold enough to think beyond the short term general election cycle.  As business people we can however turn our attention to the number of job vacancies and getting those positions filled and honing conduits to find skilled resources to enable economic recovery and growth.  There are also obvious steps and attitudes that job/work seekers can also take or adopt to improve their chances of finding a more satisfactory employment situation.

The free movement of labour within the EEC provides the UK with a greatly enhanced skills pool; there was, at one time, a considerable influx of such labour notably from Poland which has now somewhat abated due to the weakening of sterling but the market still exists.   This influx did highlight not only the greater work ethic of the migrants once they arrived in the UK but very importantly their mobility to find appropriate employment.   The lack of mobility consideration is still very prevalent with UK employers and job seekers – there are insufficient “Dick Whittingdons” in today’s UK economy – both employers and employees need to be more open minded and creative when it comes to location in the job search.    Candidates need to more seriously consider relocation, commuting, renting/subletting, quality of life etc. to satisfy or moderate their career ambitions.   Employers should not only offer assistance (not necessarily financial e.g. assistance in finding local rental accommodation) to employees relocating to work for them but also consider more empathetically those who wish to salary sacrifice for enhanced quality of life.   Far too often job applicants are summarily dismissed by agencies and employers based on the proximity of an address on the CV to the work location- if the candidate’s skill set fits the requirement then the credibility of relocation or commuting should be investigated.

If immediate specific skills are required then there are a number of professionals /freelancers looking to supplement their income – this approach could be taken in line with an apprenticeship or training programme for a new entrant or a thorough search and selection campaign /head-hunt for a permanent placement.   The return on investment on training can be significant and the monetary investment can be protected though the contract of employment i.e. stipulating at the outset the amount the employee would have to refund for early/premature departure.   The policy of” recruit for attitude and train for skills” remains worthy of consideration in many instances.    There are many excellent vocational training courses offered by local technical colleges which can be used for skill enhancement as well as acquisition.

Many graduates and students of higher education eventually succeed in a career unrelated to their studies; it is the studying ability, mental agility, reasoning power, analytical ability, application, focus, camaraderie, social skills, communication ability etc. that are transferrable skills acquired in tertiary education.  Even where the degree or professional course leads directly to a directly related career only a small percentage of the specific knowledge imparted is ever eventually applied in practice.  Therefore one would encourage the graduate, school leaver and employer to look for transferrable skills and attitude.  There are many examples of those succeeding outside their tertiary studies e.g. who for one moment would have thought that a Chemistry graduate would have become one of our arguably, greatest prime ministers!

Age discrimination is now rightly, illegal; with increased life expectancy we all have to consider working longer and the enhanced experience should be properly appreciated in the work place.  There are many excellent skilled workers with seniority who have much to contribute on either a part or full time basis.  Again a correct attitude and consideration has to be adapted by both the employer and the employee – it is one thing for an employer to be open to a more experienced employee but it is another for the employee to blend well and form a working relationship within the team.   Part time work becomes more attractive and lower income requirements evolve as mortgages are paid off and children mature leading to the availability of great experience in the work place at a very reasonable, affordable cost.

As an experienced search consultant I have found that eventually every vacancy is successfully filled- there is of course a supply/ demand situation which can affect the eventual starting salary.    Often a discussion on the service level and fees required for a specific search on an initial brief leads to creative alternative solutions!

Mike Pill, F.C.A., B.Sc. (Eng)
Senior Search Consultant & Director, TMP & Associates Ltd

Mike helps organisations in a wide range of industries, across all commercial disciplines and geographies recruit the senior talent they need to succeed.


About mikepill

Senior Recruitment, Search and selection Consultant and Director at TMP & Associates Ltd. Finding the talent that businesses need to succeed.
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