Overcoming the Skills Shortage Challenge

Posted by Shane Wheeler | March 22, 2016 |
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Skill shortages have challenged recruiters for some time and, according to recent industry surveys and reports, will continue to do so throughout 2016.  Shane Wheeler, Marketing Communications Executive, Bond International Software looks at the key points reported and how the right combination of technique and technology can enable recruiters to fill more skills shortage vacancies.

Adapting to new demands

During the credit crunch and eventual recession of 2009, workers were often overstretched and many were cautious about seeking new roles for fear of being left out of work.  Meeting these challenges head-on, recruiters honed their skills, became even more tenacious and weathered the economic climate of the following years.

Momentum steadily built as the economy recovered and, by 2013, the grip was firm enough to tangibly renew optimism throughout the recruitment market.  As we entered 2014, industry reports highlighted the growing confidence with stats including, ‘Professional jobs market up 8.5% year on year’ (APSCo) and ‘Half of employers plan to increase permanent staff levels’ (REC).  The outlook was bright again.

In 2015 we saw wages rise and more and more businesses looking for new employees.  But challenges still loomed large and two main strands dominated what became known as ‘The Year of the Candidate’: the rise in skills shortages and the rise in candidate power.  One strand naturally led to the other and recruiters once again needed to adapt to the demands of their marketplaces.

State of the industry

As 2016 dawned, three important recruitment industry reports were published.  Individually, they presented compelling statistics from extensive employer research, together they shared key messages and delivered an overall ‘state of the industry’ picture.

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REC/KPMG Report on Jobs

On Friday 8th January, REC and KPMG published their Report on Jobs which highlighted how the recruitment industry is remaining strong whilst continuing to deal with the effects of skills shortages.

Kevin Green, CEO, REC, commented on the report, “The UK labour market is in great shape at the start of 2016 but some major challenges lie ahead.  Skill shortages are a real threat to continued growth in many industries.” and Bernard Brown, Partner at KPMG, singled out IT as an important example of where skills are needed, “In the wake of several high profile breaches, companies are investing heavily in their cyber security teams and demand for IT specialists surged in December (2015).  This hiring boom has caused a skills shortage in the sector, with recruiters struggling to find enough candidates qualified in IT security to satisfy demand.”

REC JobsOutlook

A key point posited by the REC JobsOutlook, published Wednesday 27th January, reinforced the recent history of skills shortages:

‘For the 13th consecutive month employers anticipate a shortage of technical/engineering skills to fill permanent roles (14%).’

The survey asked employers where they expected to see a shortage of permanent workers in 2016 and found:

‘With an anticipated shortage throughout 2016 of both permanent and agency technical and engineering workers being employers’ primary concern – as it frequently was throughout 2015 – it is clear that the lack of availability of workers in these areas is presenting a significant challenge to UK plc.  Concern over the ongoing sufficient availability of construction workers has, within the second half of 2015, also been regularly highlighted.’

Driving and distribution skills shortages were also cited in the survey results, closely following the sectors above.  On the temporary side, the survey presented the following:

‘Whilst the seasonal retail boom that normally drives need for temporary drivers has passed, it is interesting to note an ongoing concern over the sufficient availability of contingent logistics workers. When coupled with the additional concern registered in December over the availability of their permanent counterparts, competition for available workers in this skills group – alongside technical and engineering workers – will be fierce.’

REC Director of Policy, Tom Hadley commented on the survey, “…with fewer candidates available, employers need to take a thoughtful approach to bring in the skills they need.”

Undoubtedly, skills shortages made their presence felt throughout the REC JobsOutlook survey, but overall the message was clearly one to strengthen the resolve of recruiters facing these challenges.  The following findings were particularly encouraging.

‘More than four in five employers (83%) plan to take on permanent staff in the next three months.’

‘Confidence is high among the 600+ employers surveyed, with 80% saying that economic conditions are improving. And with 94% of organisations operating with limited capacity to take on more work, hiring is a priority for those seeking to capitalise on sustained UK economic growth.’

UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) Annual Survey

Thursday, 28th January saw the release of a major report with one of the strongest skills shortages headlines seen thus far:

‘UK jobs and skills gap: UKCES says skills shortage has reached unprecedented levels, as one in four listed jobs remain unfilled’.

The UKCES Annual Survey 2015 revealed the extent of the skills shortages issue by detailing the stats discovered by their survey of 91,200 employers.  This survey solidified the messages delivered by the REC/KPMG Report on Jobs and the REC JobsOutlook, again painting a picture of strong industry growth offset by the effects of skills shortages:

‘There was substantial growth in the number of employers active in the recruitment market in 2015 compared to 2013: 19 per cent of establishments had at least one current vacancy at the time of ESS 2015 fieldwork, up from 15 per cent in 2013. Moreover, there were 928,000 reported vacancies, almost 300,000 more than two years previously (an increase of 42 per cent). This strong growth in recruitment activity was evident in all the UK countries.’

‘Within this buoyant labour market, skill-shortage vacancies presented a growing challenge for employers in filling their vacancies. Six per cent of all employers had at least one skill shortage vacancy at the time of the survey – a significant increase from the four per cent of employers reporting such vacancies in 2013.’

Techniques to help find skilled workers

Skills shortages are set to continue affecting recruiters in many sectors throughout 2016.  The challenge is to effectively recruit within this climate and fill more skills shortage vacancies.

With ever-expanding internal databases and massive numbers of CVs available through online sources, the candidate pool recruiters are able to tap into is vast, and growing by the minute.  In response, Bond International Software have researched and published a number of eBooks designed to offer recruiters help and advice on sourcing and placing skilled candidates more efficiently.

The ’10 Ways to Interact with Smarter Candidates’ eBook looked at the stronger position the smartest candidates were holding and suggested ten methods of attracting them to a recruitment agency.  Ranging from blogging to social media, mobile apps to streaming video, the techniques detailed within this eBook add real value for recruiters looking to place more candidates in skills shortage vacancies.

Bond’s ‘Searching for the Right Candidates’ eBook dug deep into the technology available (and being constantly developed) to enable recruiters to negotiate huge volumes of data and quickly find skilled candidates.  Pointing out how ‘best practice’ use of technology is key, the approach being as important as the technology itself, this eBook detailed the different types of search and which factors determine the best results when using them.  Comparing and contrasting the technology of Structured Search, Free Text (Boolean) Search, Federated Search and Contextual Search to its use by individuals and agencies with varying degrees of experience and resources, this eBook is recommend for recruiters managing skills shortage vacancies.

With information just as relevant this year as when first published, the ‘Gaining a Competitive Tech Advantage in the Year of the Candidate’ eBook highlights the most exciting search technology to emerge this decade: Contextual Search.  Searching technology typically relies on the use of keywords taken from jobs descriptions or skills, and running searches finds those keywords, irrespective of context, within CVs and CRM candidate records.  Contextual Search offers a new horizon…

Technology to help find skilled workers

Using the IT Security skills shortage example given by Bernard Brown, Partner at KPMG; an individual may describe themselves as an IT Security Engineer on their CV, however reading the full description of their activity and experience may reveal they are also suitable, perhaps even more so, for IT Security Analyst positions.  A recruiter reading and understanding full job descriptions and CVs may draw this conclusion and discover candidates they would have otherwise missed, but traditional keyword searches would not and these candidate would not appear in longlist results.  How is it possible that searching technology could assess this information and come to the same conclusion a person would?

Contextual search technology takes a number of documents (including job specifications, CVs and recruiter notes) stored within the CRM, indexes them and uses complex mathematical algorithms to conduct searches.  Unlike keyword search, contextual search looks for interlinked phrases to find more accurate results.  For example, if a contextual search was run on phrases such as ‘aquatic, flightless bird’, ‘lives in Antarctica’, ‘adapted to life in water’, ‘black and white plumage’ or ‘diet of krill, fish and squid’; the technology would ‘understand’ the meaning of these terms and ascertain the user required penguins.

Further to this ‘understanding’, the technology also optimises search results based upon context and scores their relevance, presenting users long lists in order of relevance.

As the volume of documents grows within a database, contextual search technology ‘learns’ and becomes even more accurate.  Results are sub-second, effective within all business sectors and work across all documents and languages.

Unique in the recruitment software market, AdaptInSight offers recruiters the technology to find more skilled candidates.

Technique and technology, a two-pronged attack for success

As we progress through 2016, we hope to see reports published by REC, APSCo and UKCES highlighting more and more skills shortage vacancies being filled.  Recruiters have overcome challenges time and again and with the combination of technique and technology now available, confidence is high.

Have you used any of the techniques or technology discussed above to help manage skills shortage vacancies?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.              

Category: Recruitment

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Shane Wheeler
From 1997, Shane was an Account Manager for a global broadcast monitoring company, providing services to the marketing and PR industries. Shane’s career at Bond began in 2010 as a Business Development Manager for Bond Adapt. Shane moved to the Bond Adapt marketing team in 2014 as Marketing Communications Executive.

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