Play the long game in the response to the recruitment crisis

9 August 2022

Alex Young, HR Review

The nationwide problem with recruitment – across any sector – was labelled a crisis early on, but if it was a crisis back then, it surely risks being a catastrophe now, highlights Alex Young.

Job vacancies in the UK are at a record high of 1.3m – with more unfilled jobs than unemployed people.

A recent study showed labour shortages could cost the economy £30bn a year if they are not addressed urgently, while manufacturing lobby group Make UK calculated unfilled factory worker vacancies in that sector are costing the UK £7bn in lost output this year alone. Meanwhile we are seeing 40,000 vacant nursing posts in England,122,000 vacancies in adult social care, a shortage of more than 10,000 doctors and 50,000 teachers.

It is now beyond doubt that there is not a single business that can afford to ignore this problem, and with the issue so widespread businesses need to act now if they are to survive the storm.

However, while the recruitment crisis has forced HR departments to rapidly rethink their short term approach to hiring, the truth is the way people look for jobs today is changing for good and requires a long term shift in attitudes from businesses.

What have caused the issues that recruiters are facing?

Young people entering the workforce for the first time outnumber any other specific cohort looking for work, but they are doing so from a very difficult position. Emerging Adults – those people aged between 16 and 24 – have been hugely impacted by the pandemic, with their education interrupted, exams impacted and their ability to socialise hindered greatly.

And now with the knock-on effect of Brexit on the jobs market, plus the cost of living crisis affecting many people’s lifestyles, many will have had to revise their plans for higher education and instead enter the workplace.

There is still an overriding belief that a university degree is a fast-track to a white collar job, but with circumstances as they are – combined with the staggering cost of tuition fees and associated costs – those who can think beyond this rather limiting attitude benefit incrementally now and in the future.

So how can a business ensure it is tapping into this significant pool of potential talent, and in doing so set itself up for a strong, healthy future?

Know they aren’t in it for life

Several studies show young workers aren’t motivated by the same factors as previous generations, such as a job for life. In fact, our research showed 44 percent of young people expect to have changed jobs four times by the time they are 30, with 46 percent saying they expect to have more than one job at a time in the future. Businesses must recognise how swiftly young people move through jobs, life stages and changes in their early life by being reactive, culturally relevant and fully accepting of the context of every age group.

Be a guiding light

It is also important that recruiters acknowledge the mindset of young people today. They are more anxious than ever, with 65 percent saying they worry about the world around them and 61 percent being unsure about where their future is heading. They will welcome a company that has an optimistic outlook and celebrates good news and positivity in the world. By being vocal about a future full of limitless opportunities, young people will feel they are on a journey of shared values and will feel heard, seen and supported by their employer.

This positivity extends to their direct experiences, too. Celebrate young employees’ progress, offer them visual representations of their success, and give them opportunities to shout about their achievements at work. This is a generation who look for external validation, so a business who enables that will be viewed favourably. Duracell’s Big Battery Hunt inspires and promoted positive action, empowering young people to instigate change at home around battery recycling.

Teach them on the job

One of the most tangible ways to support new recruits is by accelerating their skills. Young people are driven to learn – particularly given the upset to their education caused by the pandemic – and a business that can offer them the chance to develop a critical skill will spark their interest. By maximising these opportunities, including offering mentoring and L&D support from existing team members and management, businesses will help build shared growth and a more successful future for all parties. By offering the opportunity to learn on the job you will also, for many, solve the conundrum of needing to be earning money but without the requisite skills and qualifications at the outset.

Heathrow’s World of Work programme was a youth employment movement created to inspire, upskill and empower young people to unlock their career potential.

But learn from them too

While every generation is defined – on the whole – by an attitude or mindset, Gen Z has a particularly unique outlook on life. They are defined by their passion, their principles and their desire for fairness and equality. They want to work for businesses that reflect that attitude, so make a point of championing diversity and equal opportunities across the board. Just as 56 percent of young people we spoke to said they were more likely to buy products from companies that give something back to society, 59 percent said they think brands should share the responsibility for solving society’s problems.

Samsung’s Solve For Tomorrow: Next Gen programme harnessed the power of co-creation in interactive design sprints, seeking innovative technological ideas from young people.

Be authentic

Attempts to attract young people to an employment opportunity have to be built on solid foundations, so being authentic in all communications and messaging is vital. Young people are quick to dismiss poorly conceived or inauthentic attempts to connect with them and will complain loudly if they feel a company is disrespecting their intelligence. The solution for businesses is to listen far more and ask this important generation to reveal the world from their perspective. They want to work for a brand or business who listens to their point of view and helps that inform their product or service.

Moving forward

While the recruitment crisis is undeniably a cross-generational issue, affecting people of all ages and demographics, the benefit of making your business appeal to young people is multi-faceted. Not only do these people represent every company’s future consumers or service users, they are also the workforce of tomorrow. They are the people who will take every single business in this country forward into the future, modernising it, driving it into new areas of growth and, one day relatively soon, running it completely. They may not look like an asset on paper, with their different attitudes, alternative approach to life and unconventional route to business, but they hold unlimited potential and, if nurtured properly, will be the very biggest asset for any business leader.

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