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Tackling staff shortages with social mobility

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 16 Feb 2022

Amid the current talent and skills shortage, the temptation for business owners and recruiters to panic hire to plug skills gaps in their business may feel overwhelming. But this approach can risk dismantling efforts to build a diverse workforce.

Sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality urgently need staff. To remedy the immediate skills gap, some employers are tapping into flexible recruitment solutions. For instance, certain sectors, such as warehousing, need a constant flow of workers in different locations and GIG, a temp agency app, lets employers distribute staff to the places that need them most around the UK. To further tackle issues such as transport and housing, GIG is even creating purpose-built accommodation to house the workers it provides.

In another example of flexible thinking, when faced with an urgent lack of skilled butchers last summer because of new Brexit rules and pandemic restrictions, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers worked with the Ministry of Justice to connect butchers and abattoirs with prison services, recruiting prisoners and people about to leave prison.

The New Futures Network (NFN), a specialist part of HM Prison and Probation Services, forges partnerships between prisons and employers to help businesses fill skills gaps and prison leavers find employment.

James Timpson, CEO of retail service provider Timpson, has long been an advocate of hiring ex-offenders in his national chain of shops. Construction companies Keltbray and Balfour Beatty, property developer Land Securities and food manufacturer Bernard Matthews all employ ex-offenders. 

Employers can also set up training and production facilities within the prison estate. This not only helps fill an urgent labour shortage within companies, but also helps prisoners gain valuable skills and qualifications that will boost their chances of getting a job after serving their sentence.

Chris Goulding, Managing Director of specialist HR and finance and accountancy recruitment firm Wade Macdonald, says: “By pursuing talent from multiple sources, you are likely to gain candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, which will bring the fresh perspectives and multifaceted skillsets unlikely to be found when only hiring from one stream.” 

One important concern that is increasingly expressed by young jobseekers in the UK is the insecurity of jobs, particularly in sectors such as transport and warehousing, which rely heavily on recruitment agencies and temporary positions.

In its report Addressing skills and labour shortages post-Brexit, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that almost all the extra jobs created since the onset of the pandemic have been for temporary staff, but those in temporary employment want a permanent job. 

In the US, employers are increasingly seeing the benefit of switching temporary staff to permanent contracts. Last year, Walmart changed two-thirds of its hourly-paid store workers to full time, up from about half in 2016. 

It seems that “inadequate people management and development practices are a key under-reported factor behind the shortages reported by some employers”, according to the CIPD’s research.

The skills shortage is one of the biggest challenges in the coming years for employers and the economy in general. The UK’s productivity rate has languished since the 2008 financial crash compared to its G7 rivals, but the current skills crisis could stymie the needed post-pandemic economic recovery, further disadvantaging the UK and its workforce. 

Employers should use this time to rethink the way they engage and retain new staff and consider ways in which the latest ‘emergency’ recruitment measures can embed diversity and engender social mobility in their workforces.

Inadvertently, the skills crisis could boost social mobility – which has been falling for the past decade – but only if employers retain current recruitment practices by tapping into people from multiple channels and backgrounds and continue investing in training and development to boost retention.

Social mobility and inclusion

As organisations struggle to attract the talent they need, there is a business need to widen the talent pool. At the same time, they recognise the need for diversity of thought in order to survive and thrive.

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