How can employers plug the skills gap?

Recruitment
and retention are the buzzwords as the war for talent continues. So what are
managers and trainers doing about it, asks Karen Higginbottom

Yet
again research has highlighted the acute challenges facing UK employers when it
comes to recruiting skilled staff.

This
time, more than 2,500 organisations took part in two major surveys published
last week which reveal the depth of the continuing crisis.

The
latest Lloyds TSB Commercial Business in Britain survey of more than 2,000
organisations found that over 50 per cent of UK’s employers are experiencing
difficulties in finding skilled workers (News, 23 January 2001).

The
Reed Skills Index (RSI) survey of 550 organisations commissioned by the Reed
recruitment agency claimed a higher figure, with 68 per cent of employers
struggling to find suitably qualified staff.

The
skills crisis is not new, but the question is, what are HR managers and UK
training bodies doing to fight back?

The
figures are savage. Both surveys show that the Thames Valley is the worst hit
region for skills shortages in the UK.

The
problem is getting so acute that many desperate IT companies are sharing market
intelligence with competitors as a way of tackling recruitment problems.

Karen
Price, chief executive of e-skills NTO, confirmed that this is common practice
among IT companies in the Thames Valley. "There is a desire to share
information. This is one of the ways that employers try to address the skills
issue," she said.

The
RSI survey also shows that 20 per cent of employers found technical and
engineering posts particularly difficult to fill.

Mike
Taylor, group divisional director of HR and development for building services
engineering company Lorne Stewart, says, "We’re suffering from a
tremendous skills shortage. During the recession most employers stopped
training, which led to a huge shortage in skilled workers."

His
company targets school-leavers by offering apprenticeships for mechanical and
electrical engineers but he admits recruitment is an uphill struggle.

Lorne
Stewart relies on the training initiatives of the Electrical trading
Association to plug the skills gap by advertising apprenticeships in colleges.

Another
issue that goes hand-in-hand with skills shortage is the retention of skilled
staff.

Taylor
admits good apprentices may be poached by competitors. "We have particular
shortages in the service and maintenance side of the business," he said.
"We offer employees salaried jobs rather than hourly contracts in this
area. In addition, they are entitled to sick pay and benefits. This provides an
added incentive to recruit and retain staff."

The
construction industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors, with 61 per cent
of companies reporting a skills shortfall, according to the Lloyds TSB study.

Don
Ward, chief executive of the Construction Industry Board, said, "The
recruitment situation in construction has been difficult for the past 15
months. A major plank of our policy is to plug this skills shortage and make
the industry more attractive to young people. Over the past 10 years, we’ve put
£10m into our recruitment and training campaigns."

The
Construction in Training Body (CITB) has predicted that 370,000 new
construction industry recruits will be required over the next five years.

But
there is more bad news in the financing/accounting sectors according to the
Recruitment Confidence Index, produced in partnership with the Cranfield School
of Management and the Daily Telegraph, published last week. This shows that
more than 40 per cent of organisations anticipate difficulties filling
managerial/professional vacancies in the next six months.

Carmen
Burton, HR executive manager for Reading-based firm of chartered accountants
Norton Practice, acknowledges that this is a problem. "For more qualified
and experienced managers, we have considered the option of recruiting abroad,
for example in Australia or South Africa. This method is alright if you need a
number of people, but isn’t cost-effective for one or two recruits."

Burton
adds that her firm used to rely on word of mouth. "We’ve broadened our
recruitment by advertising in the Evening Standard. We have also put in place a
more stringent recruitment method to ensure that we can get bums on seats."

She
concedes that this is only a short-term measure. "I think that businesses
need to be more forward-thinking, plan for the future, look at the staff they
have and come up with a strategy for marrying the two together."

Figures
from the RSI survey show the situation in the Thames Valley is worsening. The
Government and training bodies need to behave responsibly and take
urgent action to tackle this crisis.
www.cranfield.ac.uk/som/rci  www.reed.co.uk

The
UK’s recruitment black spot

The
Thames Valley is a black spot for recruiting skilled staff, according to
research by Reed Skills Index.

The
region, dubbed the UK’s Silicon Valley, reports 82 per cent of employers
experiencing problems recruiting skilled staff.

This
is compounded by the high cluster of IT companies combined with
under-employment in the region, says e-skills NTO, the IT training organisation.

Carmen
Burton, HR executive manager for chartered accountants the Norton Practice,
said, "The accountancy market is very competitive in the Thames Valley.
Unemployment is low and we are all trying to attract the limited source of good
people out there."

So
what are HR managers on the ground doing to tackle the problem?

Deirdre
Murphy, employment policy manager for software company ICL, says it tailors its
benefits packages to the individual needs of its employees. "They can vary
the level of contribution to their pension scheme or buy more holiday. We also
offer additional voluntary benefits such as retail vouchers or pet insurance."

Comments are closed.