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How to overcome the skills shortage

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 by admin No Comments


There’s no hiding from the truth: the UK is in the midst of a major skills shortage.

  • 146,0001 vacancies remain unfilled because of a lack of candidates with the relevant skills, experience or qualifications.
  • 15% of employers report that even their current employees are not ‘fully proficient’ in their roles – equivalent to 1.4 million British workers.

Politicians, educators and big-time businesses are busy pointing accusatory fingers at each other, but it’s the executives and small business owners who are suffering day-to-day limitations of productivity and competitiveness.

With each job advert placed, a new flurry of lacklustre CVs pile in, and it’s this underwhelming waste of time that can make it seem like you’ve got no other option than to give up on your recruitment drives altogether. But succumbing to defeat never ends well; your existing employees will likely be obliged to take on the extra work, and after months of being inundated with tasks outside of their job descriptions, one-by-one they’ll hand in their resignations until you’re left staring gormlessly around an empty office.

This unfortunate sequence of events can be prevented with the following tips. By actively working to overcome the skills shortage, you’ll be able to secure the qualities you need staff to possess, no matter what state your industry or the wider job market is in.

Adopt a staff retention strategy

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to overcome a skills shortage is to train from within.

Whether you do it internally, or if you choose to send your staff on external training courses, employee training is an essential component of any retention strategy; it allows managers to ensure their staff are taught the skills necessary to perform their roles efficiently, plus it makes workers feel valued, which means they’re less likely to look for a job elsewhere and leave you panic-searching for an adequately skilled replacement.

You can read more about when, why and how to implement a staff retention strategy here.

Hire for development (i.e. change the wording on your jobs specs!)

Sometimes you’ve got to be honest with yourself and ask: Is there a skills shortage, or am I just asking too much?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a multi-talented workforce, and in certain industries such as the media, it’s not uncommon to find execs that are knowledgeable across disciplines, from strategy to campaign delivery. However, many candidates are coming from workplaces in which they’ve had one function; they may be hunting for a new job because they want to expand their skillset, but those knowledge-hungry candidates may never apply if they feel they can’t tick all of the boxes on your job specification.

This transpires into your interview process too. Competency-based interviews, for example, serve to highlight past experiences, theorising that the candidate will replicate these behaviours if you offer them the role. The information you’ll draw out here is limited because the opportunities may never arise to discuss the ways in which the candidate wants to develop and how malleable they are.

In this sense, changing the wording on your job specs and the criteria boxes within your interview assessments can prove valuable. It may be as simple as shifting some of your ‘essential’ competencies into the ‘desired’ category, so once you’ve found an eager and hard-working new employee, you can start working on developing those missing or underdeveloped skills.

Look in new places

Another question you should ask yourself is: Am I just looking in the wrong places?

Recruitment methods can get stale, which is why it’s essential to dust yours off every now and then, and look for new avenues to explore for talent. This may mean switching recruitment agencies, attending job fairs, or using social media in ways you’ve not done before; candidates don’t always come directly to the vacancies page on your website, and they don’t all use the same recruitment agents, so there are plenty of skilled, talented workers out there who you’ve not come across yet. You may even discover perfect matches who are not actively looking for a new job, but if you can reach out to them with a fantastic job offer, they may be enticeable.

Implement a graduate scheme

Graduates are cheap to hire, quick to learn and well practiced in transferable skills, such as written and oral communication, organisation, and data analysis. However, graduate schemes are a really competitive field right now because huge numbers of businesses recognise that securing top-tier university graduates is one of the most logical recruitment methods during a skills shortage.

Many businesses will start taking applications from graduates a year before they finish their degree or masters course in order to secure the highest level of talent before they’re off the job market. It’s a yearlong task for your HR team, but if you’ve got the resources to advertise and run a graduate scheme (or if you can enlist the assistance of a recruitment agency), doing so can really pay off.

You can read more about producing an effective graduate scheme here.

Run an apprenticeship programme

Trade industries, such as construction and plumbing, have felt the real brunt of the UK’s skills shortage, with a reported 35%2 of trades companies struggling to find qualified workers. The UK is currently undergoing a major residential and commercial development drive as the population grows, but without suitably skilled engineers available, many firms have to turn down work.

To challenge the shortfall, trades companies have demonstrated their resourcefulness by initiating a high percentage of apprenticeships: on-the-job training, backed up by nationally recognised qualifications, taught at a college.

Any industry can run apprenticeships, from events to business management. Whilst in training, businesses have additional hands-on-deck at a lower cost than the average employee, and once qualified, you’ve got a fully trained professional who is already completely accustomed to your company’s way of working.

If your business is suffering a skills shortage, our consultants are here to help. We can assess the needs of your company and source reputable talent at all levels to help your business grow. Call us on 08456 182 750, email us at or submit your enquiry via our online contact form today.

1 BBC, 2015. How job and skills shortage affect the UK. [Online] Available at:
2 Liverpool Echo, 2015. Construction skills shortages may lead to shortfall of new North West homes, claims recruiter. [Online] Available at:
All information sources accessed 25th September 2015.

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