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Skills shortages: the perfect opportunity to build a more diverse workforce

Ongoing skills shortages, along with a desire to build more diverse workforces, are arguably two of the biggest challenges facing in-house talent acquisition teams today.

According to the Future Workplace 2021 HR Sentiment Survey, more than half of leaders said talent acquisition is a top strategic priority, while 67% cited diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) as a main concern. Meanwhile, Mercer’s latest Global Talent Trends report paints a similar picture, with DE&I analytics and ‘defining future workforce needs’ highlighted as top priorities. However, while these distinct issues are often tackled separately, taking a joined-up approach could hold the key to success in both areas.

Acute skills shortages

It is no secret that employers across the UK are grappling with unprecedented talent shortages. Official figures reveal that the number of job vacancies in May to July 2022 hit well over a million with 1,274,400 job roles unfulfilled. Indeed, since vacancies fell to an all-time low in April to June 2020, they have increased by 945,000 in a little over two years.

Beyond these headline numbers, skills gaps are having a tangible impact on both our everyday lives and the wider UK economy. Small businesses are limiting operations because of staff shortages, hospitality venues are restricting opening hours, and a shortfall of HGV drivers is leaving gaps on supermarket shelves.

The reasons behind this evident lack of candidates are, unsurprisingly, complex. Insufficient talent pipelines, an exodus of EU workers post-Brexit, and the fact that many professionals retrained or switched sectors to find work during the pandemic have all helped to contribute to the current situation.

But many businesses are also struggling to source staff because they are fishing for talent in the same small pond as their competitors. There simply aren’t enough people to go around. Organisation must explore the potential of untapped talent pools for a better way of doing things.

Untapped talent pools

While businesses across the UK scramble for talent in skills-scarce silos, there are entire groups of people who, for one reason or another, completely rule out certain career paths or find it difficult to access employment altogether. Archaic recruitment processes, outdated job specs, and even the channels used to communicate opportunities can all act as a barrier to applicants.

Specific sectors can unintentionally deter jobseekers depending on their gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Meanwhile, disabled talent, former military personnel, ex-offenders, individuals returning to work after a career break, older professionals, and care leavers are just some of the groups who statistically find it more challenging to secure a role. What’s more, the individuals most likely to be inadvertently side-lined by legacy hiring practices are also most likely to be able to bring new and valuable skills and perspectives to teams.

Engaging a diverse workforce

Actively seeking out individuals from these underrepresented groups will not only have a positive impact on the volume of jobseekers available, but also on the breadth, depth, and quality of your talent pools.

There is a wealth of evidence that supports the fact that companies with diverse workforces outperform the competition. Make no mistake, even in times when talent is plentiful, DE&I initiatives aren’t just ‘nice to have’ – they have a positive and measurable impact on a business’s bottom line.

Diversity breeds innovation. People with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, and experiences will all approach challenges in dynamic ways, see different opportunities, and bring unique insights. Plus, only companies with a diverse range of talent can honestly claim to be truly representative of the customers and communities they serve.

However, in order to tap into new or underutilised talent pools, engage with a wide range of jobseekers, and take advantage of the benefits that diverse workforces bring, talent acquisition teams and hiring managers must identify why they are not reaching these people already. Unnecessary role requirements, your ability to upskill and retrain applicants, use of language or imagery, and job ad placement all need to be reviewed and reconsidered. Get it right, and your reward will be access to a whole new world of quality candidates.

Seize the opportunity to build a diverse workforce

By doing things in a better way, it’s possible to reach previously overlooked segments of the workforce.

And, while the skills shortages employers are facing are less than ideal, they provide a perfect opportunity to build a more diverse workforce. By joining the dots, and seeking help from the experts, talent acquisition professionals can take a fresh look at recruitment practices and build better processes to boost not only applications, but also inclusion.