Recruiting in a Skills Shortage

Why not read our latest blog post, Industrial Strategy Boosting Technical Skills?

In 2010 we reported on the skills shortage across the UK , in July 2010 we published an article in The Argus which discussed the skills shortage in Sussex.  Today the Institution of Mechanical Engineers have published an article in which Vince Cable, Business Secretary comments that engineering and manufacturing skills shortages are hampering the growth of the UK economy. And throughout 2011 to 2017 the situation has not improved.

We have written extensively on the issues surrounding both recruitment and training.  Young people make career choices based on the information they have to hand.  It’s vital that we provide the correct resources and support when they are making critical career choices to help plug the skills gap.  You can read more about this subject in our White Paper.

As managers we have to take responsibility for showcasing roles to attract young people into rare skills.  At the same time the education system has to provide suitable training to support those learning these new skills.

The UK has a skills shortage. That’s both official and borne out wherever an SME manager tries to recruit specific trades. In a 2010 survey by the CBI and the vocational qualifications body EDI who surveyed 694 organisations and reported in the Guardian, half of the respondents said that they were “struggling to find staff with skills in science,

UK Skills Shortage - manage your recruitment imagetechnology, engineering and maths”. The Government lists the sectors in which the skills shortage is most acute and these are set out in a list of professions available to immigrants on the Home Office web site. The list is extensive and covers most engineering and science-oriented jobs. Many would also argue that we are facing shortages of candidates with the right attitude and with service skills. Many service roles were filled by workers from the Baltic States following their accession into Europe but following UK’s recent economic problems, huge numbers went home leaving numerous vacancies.

How then should an SME manager go about recruiting when it’s a seller’s market? How does the manager get the right person in to fill a vacancy without compromising on standards and choosing the ‘best of a poor bunch’? This blog sets out some guidelines. It recommends departing from the normal recruitment-agency oriented methods and it suggests that a new, more assertive approach is needed.

In any market where there are many buyers (firms seeking candidates) seeking few sellers (candidates actually looking to move) the priority is to cast the net wide. If not, the pot from which the choice will be made will be small and the risk of getting poorer candidates is high. Casting the net wide means two things: having an open mind to the profile of the person needed and using every possible source to find candidates.
Taking the person first, if you write the Person Profile with little scope, this constrains the people who will apply and the people that you and your managers will select. The following are examples:

• Specifying that the person must be able to drive and have a car even though the number of times when public transport is not available will be low. Leave it to the candidate to say how he or she will be able to meet the travel requirement.
• Demanding that the person has specific and extensive vertical market experience for support jobs such as accountancy, IT and HR. Remember that context skills like those in retail or in law practices can quickly be acquired.
• Requiring specific qualifications such as ‘graduate level’ when in fact a bright A-Level student would suffice. Remember that foundations skills can be learned – the key issue is aptitude so leave it to the candidate to say how he or she will meet the numeracy or literacy needs.

Managers are very inclined to tighten the requirements. Ask them if such requirements are real ‘must haves’ or if there are alternatives. Work to open the scope, not close it down. Develop a very clear picture of the person you want at the end of an induction period of say 12 months, not the day they walk in the firm.

Now looking at the methods of recruitment, understand two things. Firstly in a skills shortage, your future recruit is likely to be in employment and very probably not looking right now. You will have to unseat them. Secondly that using ‘normal’ methods, such as asking recruitment agencies to send you candidates, is insufficient. You need to employ much more assertive methods. These are beyond the scope of a short blog but suffice to say that sources like Linkedin, Facebook, press releases and competitor and other companies are obvious sources of information about likely recruits. The watchword is assertive: actively going out to find candidates. It’s sometimes called ‘headhunting’ though that’s a somewhat historic term since now, in this information age, ‘heads’ are much easier to find thereby extending the relevance of ‘headhunting’ to most vacancies and firms.

Finally, just because it’s a seller’s market does not mean that you should reduce the robustness of your interview and selection process. You still need to interview, test and check references. See our White Paper on the full business of recruitment. There is however one major difference when recruiting scarce skills: you need to sell the firm. It’s all too common for firms to assume that candidates naturally want to join you. Most companies test and probe for 80% of the candidate/firm contact time and only spend 20% persuading the candidate that the firm is truly an exceptional place to work. Now, in 2011, this needs to move to 50/50. Principals need to be sure that they meet candidates’ needs to be sold to. Recruiting is a two-way street.

In summary then, for successful recruitment in conditions of skills shortage, keep the profile of the person you seek as open as possible and hunt out and attract candidates to you. Don’t just place it in the hands of a reactive recruitment agency and sit back and wait for a short list.

If you need to recruit, do call TimelessTime for help. Also click for further information on recruitment.

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