Hays UK jobs and employment blog


When confronted with skills shortages, the answer is collaboration

By Matt Lewis, Director of Hays Public Services


The media continues to highlight the pressing issue of skill shortages and lack of suitable candidates across many sectors, in an evolving post-Covid working world.  The resurgent private sector and transforming public sector is driving an unprecedented demand for talent which, when combined with a reduction of people in the labour market due to hundreds of thousands of EU nationals returning home, means the competition for skills is more acute than ever.

Where are the skills shortages most prevalent?

For those, like me, that like a statistic to back the anecdotal evidence, there are some startling numbers underlying the recruiter and engager’s experience of the struggle to find and engage the right talent.

The Office for National Statistics Vacancies and Jobs in the UK: October 2021 report, for example, shows a record-breaking 1.1 million live vacancies across the UK – an astonishing 35% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Overlay that with pre-existing pre-pandemic skills shortages in professional and technical environments, from digital, data and technology through to all corporate professions, qualified social work, care work, HGV driving and construction and trades, and you can see why internal talent attraction and partner suppliers alike are struggling to meet demand.

Dealing with a rising resourcing dilemma

So, in facing this challenge, what can employers do? As a supplier we look for closer collaboration with our customers, recognising the importance of the partnership in the delivery of this critically important service, and a seat at the strategic table when it comes to skills and demand planning. It’s an obvious statement, but the more notice suppliers have of potential demand, the better they can prepare to meet that demand, and explore creative solutions when it is apparent the labour market cannot deliver on the task at hand.

This starts with analysis of the root cause and effect of the resourcing challenge and the question “what is the outcome I’m looking for?”. Many organisations struggle with permanent talent attraction, and typically find themselves looking for interims and temporary workers when in reality it’s a substantive post that needs filling. Tackling the root cause of the demand by addressing the permanent recruitment issue can significantly reduce long-term costs and bring improved outcomes such as longer-term commitment, skills development and knowledge transferral.

Resolution in tackling long-term skills crisis

Whatever form this response takes, whether it’s better articulation of the social purpose of the organisation, improved targeting and direct engagement of candidates with key skills, a compromise on essential and desirable criteria, a search for transferable skill sets, or a review of the candidate journey itself, the potential impact on the ability to find and engage the right people could be huge.

Meanwhile, we have now a significant opportunity to look at the skills development pipeline through the review of early careers opportunities and pathways to employment for the disadvantaged and those displaced by Covid – people who, with some investment of time and re-training, can help us all begin to fill some of the gaps in the labour force – to everyone’s benefit.

What actions can you take instantly

For a strategy that can help address skills shortages in the shorter term, the key is to be selective. When faced with challenges around candidate engagement, the first thing organisations often do is blanket the market, sharing opportunities with as many recruitment agencies as possible. Whilst it may feel counter-intuitive, the right thing to do is engage with one, or a small number of specialist recruiting experts and commit to working with them in an active and collaborative fashion.

Sending an emailed job spec with a request for CVs that’s copied to a long list of suppliers is unlikely to receive the attention needed. Organisations, and hiring managers, need to invest time in cultivating relationships with key suppliers who can find and engage the right people, equipping recruiters with the fine detail they need to promote your organisation, the role and what’s in it for the successful candidate. 

Appointing the right partner is crucial

Spending time in consultation with your recruiter about the market, the skills you need, what you are offering and essential and desirable criteria in a candidate as well as key transferable skills is integral. Committing that time to key selected suppliers will ensure their commitment to you, and the prioritising of your requirements if you are able to equip them with the information and knowledge that is so needed to generate candidate interest in a role.  

Finally, and most importantly of all, act swiftly and decisively. Don’t let the pursuit of ‘the perfect candidate’ get in the way of securing a competent, skilled and in-demand professional. Remember, there are 1.1m opportunities out there competing for the attention of those candidates you’re trying to secure, so there is no time to waste!

If you have any questions or require support with promoting your public sector vacancies, please contact your local Hays consultant.

About this author

Matt Lewis, Director Hays Public Services, has worked in specialist recruitment since 1994, the last 10 years of which have been spent working specifically with the public sector. Matt’s role has developed into leading MSP and RPO recruitment solutions to best position organisations to attract and retain high quality talent.


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