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Utilising the overlooked areas of the workforce

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You won’t need me to tell you that there are skill shortages impacting a range of sectors across the UK.

Reports from the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) suggest that the areas suffering from shortages climbed from 9-43 between December 2013 and 2014 alone. In fact, there’s probably a good chance your organisation will have been affected in some way. Amidst the discussions of bolstering apprenticeships schemes, revamping education and various other suggestions there is actually a relatively straightforward solution – we should look to the underappreciated and often overlooked areas of the workforce. But who are these individuals and how we do we access them?

It’s simply not true that we don’t have the requisite levels of talent under our roofs to tackle at least some of the skills shortages. We have a powerful education sector – particularly in relation to other countries of a similar standing and our universities are some of the best in the world. In addition, there are numerous innovative and high flying organisations from a range of sectors that are based on these shores that have revolutionised their particular markets. However, part of the issue is that many businesses continue to recruit from the same rapidly shrinking pools of talent, rather than thinking creatively and targeting alternative sources. But where are these people?

One area that we have to do more to utilise is the senior end of the workforce. Few firms look to older people to meet skills gaps.  Clearly not every recent retiree is the same and obviously not everyone will actually want to return to the working world, but those that do could make a significant contribution.  A growing number of these people may have left the workforce early to help care for relatives (around 2m by recent estimates) and many will still possess the skills and, crucially, know-how, to get things done. They’ll tend to have a better idea of how things work within organisations simply through experience and many businesses could certainly utilise these skills, particularly in senior or non-executive roles.  

Similarly, shared parental leave and other schemes laid out by the government should encourage more mothers - who may be considering permanently leaving the workforce - to return. The Chancellor, George Osborne revealed his plans to get half a million women back to work last year and organisations should look to their skills to help fill talent gaps. Many female professionals will have left skilled roles in order to care for their children and this leads to a huge drain of talent away from the employment arena.

Another area that’s often overlooked is the disabled workforce. As you’ll be well aware, there are a number of schemes recently laid out by the government that encourage disabled professionals to re-enter the workforce. While some of these programmes have been controversial, it can’t be denied that getting more professionals into the employment arena is a good thing. Currently only 46% of working age disabled people are actually in employment and it seems a huge waste not to do more to encourage them back to work. Statistics from RIDI (The Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative) found that 80% of hiring firms felt they ‘could do more’ to increase the inclusion of disabled people while a further 74% recognised disabled candidates as an untapped talent pool. It’s encouraging to see some recognition of the issue, but more must still be done to actually utilise these skills.  However, it’s all well and good to target these groups of overlooked talent, but to actually employ – and retain – them, firms also need to think creatively about their EVPs.

People have different motivators and reasons for wanting to return to work. Consequently, if retention is an important issue to you – and it should be – it’s crucial to consider what stimulates the specific individual that you’re employing. You can’t hire the average 65-year old and expect them to slip perfectly into a working culture designed for professionals in their mid-twenties. Likewise, it may not be realistic to look to employ returning mothers in a work environment where long, rigid hours are expected. Firms need to design and tailor EVPs that appeal to individual circumstances. If the person needs extra time in the morning to drop children off at school, for example, allow them to work flexibly, or from home. Similarly, if you need to reconsider accessibility to your offices for disabled people, do it, the benefits of being able to employ a hugely neglected area of the workforce will outweigh the small cost involved and government subsidies are available under the ‘access to work’ scheme.

If firms are serious about solving skills shortages they need to recognise that they need to be flexible. By doing so, we might actually find that the talent is out there after all, we’ve just not been looking in the right places. 

Iain Blair

By Iain Blair

Iain Blair is managing director of Rethink Talent Management

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