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Talent acquisition and the skills gap: roundtable reveals top employer concerns

The search for talent is not getting any easier. Existing skills shortages have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the idea that there’s a large pool of skilled workers just waiting for a job offer is little more than a myth. The reality for many organisations is that vacancies far outnumber available, qualified candidates.

How can we solve these urgent sourcing problems? What creative ideas will organisations need to embrace to get the talent they need? And what will be the right balance of external hiring, internal mobility, and better use of non-permanent workforce?

To find out, I joined Louise West, Guidant Global’s Director of Client Solutions, and Debra Sparshott, Employer Programme Director at TALiNT Partners, to host a roundtable discussion with talent acquisition (TA) leaders from across the business landscape.

Here’s what they told us about their resourcing challenges, and how they plan to solve them.

Hiring managers must be prepared to accept WIP candidates and to move more quickly

Multiple panel members told us it’s unrealistic to expect to have three or four gold-standard candidates per vacancy to choose from in the current climate. Many TA leaders said it’s more common to need to jump in and make an offer once you’ve one found just one fully-qualified candidate who meets most of the requirements of the job description - and that’s in a range of sectors, from pharma and healthcare to retail and travel.

Why? In a word: choice. Job seekers have an abundance of choice right now, with their skills more in demand than ever before. They can afford to be much more selective about what they apply for, and far more discerning when it comes to choosing an employer. Employers that wait for a greater selection of candidates and expect that eventually they’ll have the power of choice will lose out on top talent.

Hiring managers must increase their appetite for candidates who are more ‘work in progress’ than ‘finished article’ if they want to avoid a situation where vacancies remain open and unfilled for months. What’s more, recruitment processes must be streamlined to compete with competitors who can issue interview invites, shortlist candidates, and make job offers more quickly.

“One of our panellists shared a brilliant example of making a quick hiring decision on a great candidate who was 75% of the way there, and then leveraging existing skills and capacity within the business to ensure that, at the end of the day, the hiring manager’s requirements were all being met. Not only did this organisation draw from internal resources to cover the gaps, they recruited with a clear mentorship plan in mind so that the new hire would quickly be upskilled and able to perform the role in its entirety.” -- Louise West, Guidant Global

WIP hires will expect and demand a commitment to their learning and development

Getting the right balance of external hires and internal development remains as difficult as ever, and our panel discussed the differing expectations between generations. What previous generations may have viewed as a ‘reward’ for loyalty or hard work, younger workers may expect upfront as part of an employer’s attraction strategy.

What does this mean for employers? For one panel member it means providing a consumer-grade candidate experience, with employer value proposition given equal weighting with pay rises and promotions. For another, it’s a commitment to growing their own talent by investing in market-leading L&D. But this approach isn’t without risk.

Panel members highlighted that a focus on internal moves over external hires can make it harder to achieve diversity ambitions, while others raised concerns around investing in developing a generation of talent that’s considered more flighty than its predecessors. How do you ensure that your investments in people don’t ultimately benefit a competitor?

Internal development won’t fill the skills void unless early careers programmes improve too

Most large organisations operate some form of graduate employment scheme, an early careers programme that typically lasts for two years and sees participants experience multiple business units on a rotation.

How much value are employers getting from these schemes? According to our panel, not enough. The feeling among our TA leaders was that too many early careers programmes are producing workers who are quite good at doing a few different things, but not great at doing anything in particular.

If more employers want to ‘grow their own’ talent, these graduate and school-leaver schemes will need to start producing ‘desk-ready’ members of staff who aren’t effectively starting from scratch after two years in the business.

Attraction tactics adjustments are a good start, but employer propositions must evolve too

For one panel member in the public sector, staff retention is proving to be a huge challenge in the wake of Covid-19 and the effects of Brexit legislation on overseas workers. As a result, they’re looking at building a more generalist - and in theory more flexible - workforce.

In the hospitality sector, we heard from one employer who’s trying to tackle retention issues with cash incentives in the form of service bonuses and referral fees. Other panellists spoke of potentially offering ‘pick your own hours’ terms, or creating more niche and appealing roles by breaking a single full-time vacancy down into three or four part-time roles.

What’s clear is that, for most employers, simply looking for new talent in new places will not be enough. More significant changes to employer propositions, that reflect the fact that people want to work in different ways, will have a more transformative impact on their ability to find the right people.

“With the way the world of work is evolving, I see this point being evermore important. Organisations can turn over every stone to unearth candidates, but if their proposition doesn’t meet candidate needs and wants they’ll always be facing an uphill battle. Considering business requirements from an output perspective (i.e. boxes packed, pallets delivered, contracts audited, sales calls made, etc) rather than an input perspective (i.e. number of on-payroll, 40-hours-a-week FTE) means that the fundamentals of ‘getting work done’ can be flexed to appeal to a much wider audience.” -- Louise West, Guidant Global

What does the workforce solution of the future look like? Get the guide

As our panellists’ comments have shown, the world of work has changed. Previously successful talent acquisition strategies are not fit for current and future challenges. TA leaders and their organisations must adapt and evolve their workforce solutions to protect their ability to find the talent they need.

But how?

Is your contingent workforce management strategy prepared for a post-pandemic future? is our attempt to answer this question with our friends at Coupa, the leaders in business spend management. Get your copy to see the scale of the challenge, and to see what a fit-for-purpose workforce management strategy looks like in 2021 and beyond.

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