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Why upskilling is the key to attracting tech talent during a skills shortage

Image credit: Arlawka Aungtun/Dreamstime

The skills shortage facing UK businesses, employees and the economy gives organisations an opportunity to rethink their business model with a focus on their current workforce.

Both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have taken a toll on the recruitment process. Amidst a pool of vacant positions, employers are having a hard time when it comes to attracting the best talent. Employees are reluctant to switch roles due to uncertainty, outsourcing workers from the European Union isn’t on the cards anymore, and employees lack both hard and soft skills.

This is on record as the most severe skills shortage that the UK has ever faced and is likely to slow Britain’s economic growth. Although trade sectors, such as construction, engineering, and IT, are affected the most, the UK labour shortage spans across all industries. In a recent KPMG pulse survey, 70 per cent of the companies that participated said they found it difficult or very difficult to attract and retain employees.

Top-tier business leaders are providing training and career development in line with employees’ expectations to combat the skills shortage. Why is upskilling your employees essential for retaining and attracting new talent, and how can you use it to create a landscape in which both your business and employees can flourish?

The importance of additional training and development

More than 50 per cent of the respondents in the KPMG survey said they believe that flexibility in terms of skills and career development is critical. Attracting the best talent starts in-house. For an employee to leave an organisation, apart from personal reasons, they might  feel underappreciated, stuck, or unfairly treated. Providing additional training and demonstrating a culture of learnability through the organisation can not only map out a pathway of progression for current employees but also attract new talent.

Luckily, digitisation provides an array of tools that can help in the training process. Artificial intelligence, psychometric assessment, and predictive performance can all come in handy.

In terms of the skills that need to be enhanced, organisations are realising that a mixture of hard and soft skills is needed for the best results.

Harnessing sector-specific skills

The skills shortage is primarily affecting trade sectors. According to the 14th ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage survey, conducted in Q3 of 2021, the three most in-demand roles in the UK are operations/logistics, manufacturing/production, and IT/data. But what is causing the skills shortage in these specific sectors?

Engineering, for example, has been suffering from labour shortages for a while, which peaked during the pandemic, and there are several reasons for that. First of all, it’s an industry with an ageing workforce. According to ThisWeekInFM, in 2018 19.5 per cent of engineers working in the UK were due to retire by 2026 [PDF]. It doesn’t help that there aren’t enough graduates to fill the gap, either, or that engineering has been seen as a ‘man’s world’ for a long time, which has created a gender gap.

Digitisation is also overtaking the engineering industry to automate manual processes with full force. Enerpac Tool (EPAC), for example, creates industrial equipment with a wide range of applications, such as hydraulic torque wrenches, connectors for oil and gas, and heavy-lifting technology solutions. The tools, manufactured by EPAC, have had a notable exposure in the industrial, production automation, mining, and energy markets, and in 2021 the company revealed 15 product families.

However, most employees aren’t trained to operate such technology, especially those who have decided to make a career switch. All of this calls for upskilling hard skills through technical certifications, programming courses, and apprenticeships.

Enhancing transferable skills

The 14th ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage survey also showed that the next three most in-demand roles in the UK are in sales/marketing, front office/customer-facing, administration/office support, and HR. These roles require an array of soft skills, which are as important as hard skills.

The most in-demand soft skills in the UK are accountability, reliability and discipline. Resilience, stress tolerance, adaptability, as well as leadership and social influence, are also hard to find.

Soft skills are essential not only for roles that intrinsically require them but also for sector-specific ones, although they’re often undervalued. According to a recent survey by Talent Works, 64 per cent of UK tech leaders are missing the required soft skills to succeed.

While a few years ago the recruitment focus might have been on hard skills only, now soft skills are seen as essential, which makes the market more competitive, the demands higher, and the skills shortage more astute. Alongside being able to analyse data and develop software in the IT sector, for example, it’s essential to be able to work in a team, communicate ideas, and showcase adaptability and leadership skills.

As an organisation, it’s important to develop training programmes for soft skills that take the employee’s career path into account and can map out their journey.

Although the UK skills shortage is challenging for businesses, employees, and the economy, it presents an opportunity to rethink your business model, upskill your current workforce, and attract new top-tier talent. In the long run, you will have valued employees that are trained to the best of their abilities and with a clear future in your organisation.

Joanne O'Donnell is HR manager at HTL Group.

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