This article was featured in the Belfast Telegraph on Friday 29th April ahead of the CIPD Annual Conference at the ICC Belfast on 12 May. Tickets and the full agenda are available at cipd.co.uk/niconf22.
The UK’s labour market is tighter than ever. Candidates for jobs are in short supply and demand for staff continues at pace.
The latest ONS labour market statistics show the number of job vacancies for January to March 2022 at a record 1.28 million and the latest CIPD Labour Market Outlook indicates that almost half of UK employers face recruitment challenges in the form of hard-to-fill vacancies, particularly in healthcare, public sector and construction.
This struggle to recruit is one of the subjects that will be discussed at next month’s CIPD Northern Ireland Annual Conference at the ICC in Belfast.
In advance of the event we spoke to Barbara McKiernan, Managing Director of VANRATH, and Deborah Stevenson, People and Operations Director of PwC UK, about why organisations are finding it so hard to recruit, and what they can do about it.
“The so-called Great Resignation has heightened the war for talent over the last two years,” says Deborah. “Employers have had to transition from almost one extreme to the other - moving from a time when perhaps they couldn’t attract as people were fearful to make big career moves, to a time now when it’s an employee market.”
“At PwC we’re finding people today are perhaps more confident about asking for what they want in a way workers before have not always been. It’s not high expectations so much as knowing their worth.”
Barbara agrees. “At the moment, it truly is a candidate market. Organisations need to really understand the market and stay up-to-date to keep up with those employers who are leading the way.”
A competitive reward package, with an attractive salary, benefits and additional perks, and opportunities for homeworking and flexible working, are most likely to be at the top of most people's list.
Barbara recommends that companies use benchmarking to understand the local market. “From a financial perspective, benchmarking will highlight how businesses compare against their competitors, and it’s a useful exercise when it comes to attracting talent.”
However for many people, salary isn’t the sole driving factor when choosing a job. “Better compensation, hybrid working, and the opportunity for career development are all appealing factors for candidates when it comes to searching for a new role,” says Barbara.
“Good company culture and a clear set of values are also compelling and their weight in a candidate’s decision-making process shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Barbara also recommends that companies think about additional incentives. “Whether it’s an enhanced well-being programme, the ability to buy additional annual leave or perhaps increased paternity or maternity leave, there’s lots that companies can offer in addition to a competitive salary.”
Deborah says that many employees will also be seeking a working environment that suits their specific needs. “People want to feel looked after and part of a supportive culture, connected to a community, to a common purpose, with sustainable practices and a variety of interesting work.
“It’s hard to underestimate how people want to be seen as an individual. A recent report from Gartner showed that 82% of people say it’s important that they’re seen as a person, not as an employee.”
“Organisations also need to review and refresh their Employee or People Value proposition - taking a very human-centric design approach and really listening to what current and future employees want,” advises Deborah.
One way of doing this is through advertising jobs as being hybrid.
Searches online for remote work have skyrocketed by 790% and a new global survey from payroll provider ADP revealed that two-thirds of workers would consider leaving their if they were forced to return to the office full-time unnecessarily.
"Employers have to include increased flexibility and hybrid working as ways to enticeand stand out,” says Deborah. “Hybrid working and increased flexibility are already starting to be considered non-negotiables for many.”
“Hybrid working offers a host of benefits to both employers and employees,” says Barbara. “In addition to reducing company overheads, employers will likely see an increase in staff productivity.”
This was borne out last week by a new CIPD survey which found a significant jump in the number of companies who say that homeworking has increased their organisation’s productivity or efficiency over the last year.
Companies need to demonstrate the value of coming into the office. “It’s important to build a sense of inclusion by giving people reasons to come into the office, making it a place for activities, socials and team building,” says Deborah.
“At PwC, the shift to hybrid working sees our people spending 40-60% of their week in our offices, and we believe this gives people the flexibility they are looking for while providing in-person collaboration too.”
Retaining current staff is of course as important as attracting the best new candidates.
"Once we have recruited the right people in, that’s when the real hard work begins and we’re even more focussed on retaining our people,” says Deborah.
“This means we have to move beyond understanding and acting on people’s feedback to creating a workplace where people choose to stay."
Recognition can play an important role in this. “Seek to find out what motivates your workforce and reward team members on their successes and achievements. Whether it’s the work anniversary of an employee or targets have been exceeded, it’s important that staff feel valued in any organisation,” says Barbara. “And remember to say thank you for a job well done. It’s simple but effective and will go a long way!”
Both Deborah and Barbara also emphasised the importance of communicating with employees.
"Having leaders and trusted confidants engaging with their colleagues to ensure people’s concerns are heard and addressed is important, as is continuing to communicate with people on the pressing matters of the day,” says Deborah.
“Senior leaders should seek to continually improve internal communications to ensure staff are regularly kept up-to-date with developments,” says Barbara. “One to one catch ups are crucial but remember these meetings don’t necessarily need to be face-to-face or online. Try a walking meeting instead.
“In short, get creative and embrace change!”