The search for skills

Dec 03, 2018
Businesses must engage with education providers to ensure that tomorrow’s game changers are equipped with the right skills.

Employers in Northern Ireland anticipate a shortage of highly skilled workers over the next three to five years with 76% of firms not confident that there will be sufficient people available to fill skilled roles, according to the November 2018 CBI/Pearson Education & Skills annual report. Other findings in the study include:

  • Aptitude and readiness for work is a high priority for employers when recruiting school, college and university leavers;
  • Employers view the promotion of STEM subjects, awareness of career options, and IT and digital skills as the top three priority areas for action in secondary schools;
  • 92% of employers want to play a greater role in supporting schools and colleges; and
  • 65% of employers are experiencing, or are anticipating, difficulty recruiting individuals for apprenticeships.
Gone are the days of safe bet ‘lifers’. No sector will escape the transformation of the workplace environment. Come 2035, the oldest working generation will cease to be the largest and after that, things will change. Millennials have a fresh outlook on life and don’t particularly like outdated corporate cultures. The dominant viewpoint of the workforce is increasingly becoming ‘why should I choose to work for you? What can you offer that is better than your many competitors?’ And because the skilled are in demand, they have the luxury of naming their price.

That said, it is up to the employer to ensure that they are fostering a culture and brand that will attract and retain the brightest and best.

Given the hiring difficulties that businesses are experiencing, it makes sense for employers to optimise their ability to retain existing team members. Providing positive leadership, a strong brand, a good working environment, a culture of respect, investing in training and development and empowering employees to fulfil their potential all have an important role to play in this regard.

Where businesses are losing employees, exit interviews can be a useful way to gain insight into aspects of the organisation and culture that may need to be improved. While performance reviews provide the opportunity to seek formal feedback from employees on how they feel about their current role and how they would like to see their career progressing, regular informal chats and ongoing communication with employees are just as important to ensure that we, as employers, have our finger on the pulse so timely corrective action can be taken.

Brand attractors

For many millennials, personal development ranks ahead of professional development. Keep in mind that coaching, mentoring, continuing education, career progression and volunteering opportunities are highly valued by millennial workers whereas salary and/or flexibility may be more sought after by other workers. The ability to balance work and home responsibilities allows some individuals to continue working when they might otherwise not be able to.

Flexible working was one of the issues highlighted by UK Business Secretary, Greg Clark, recently when he announced a series of new measures as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. While many companies are embracing flexible working and the benefits it brings, some employees face barriers in raising this issue with their employers. The Government may create a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly, and oblige them to make that clear when advertising.

With Brexit-related uncertainties including future trading relations and what shape the UK migration system might take, along with major changes in global technologies (artificial intelligence, robotics etc.), our priorities as employers and business influencers must include working closely with education providers to harness the power of business to ensure that today’s education and skills training equips tomorrow’s game changers.
Teresa Campbell FCA is Director of People & Culture at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd.