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When is a skills shortage not a skills shortage?

When is a skills shortage not a skills shortage?

With the toughest employment conditions for thirty years and so many people out of work, why are some jobs still so hard to fill?

Filed in Employment strategies

With over 2.5 million people currently out of work in the UK (May 2012), you'd think that the only problem is that there aren't enough jobs.

The truth is that skills shortages are nothing to do with numbers - they're to do with skills. The issue is really matching available skills 'A' to available jobs 'B'. In other words - there are jobs, there are people - but those people either don't have the right skills for the jobs, want more money than the employer is willing to pay, are in the wrong location or they simply don't know about the job.

Not having the right skills for the advertised job is easy to understand. If we suddenly needed to hire fifty brain surgeons, only brain surgeons need apply. And exactly how many of those are out of work?

That might be an extreme example - but even in the world of training, a company isn't going to hire an instructional designer, developer or learning and development manager unless they're trained, qualified and experienced.

Then there's the money. Times are tight. In fact, times have been tight for so long that I'm sure we're all bored with saying it and sick of hearing it. But that doesn't change the fact that many companies can't afford to pay what some people are not only worth, but what they'd need to encourage them to switch jobs. According to a report by the Chartered Management Institute, this is the case for around 6 out of 10 employers (based on a study of 160 companies). So, in this case, there are plenty of candidates, jobs for them to apply for - but there's not enough incentive for them to move on.

Then there's being in the wrong location. Some people are willing to move for a job; some aren't. Some would be willing to relocate, but the change would cost too much and the new employer doesn't want to cover a cost that wouldn't exist if they hired locally.

And then there's simply not knowing about the job. This is a more complex one to unpick - more complex than it first seems. Sure, it's easy to miss a job advertisement if it's only in one place - and you don't happen to look in that place. To be honest, it could be in many places and you could still miss it - even if you're actively looking.

But there's another factor. Some of the best people aren't even looking for a job. In fact, most of the best people are not only in a job, they're happy, well-rewarded and well-looked-after. Because they're good, their employers minimise the reasons for them to look for an alternative employer. Not only aren't these people looking for work, they probably don't even have an up-to-date CV and would dismiss an initial overture without much consideration.

These 'hard-to-fill' jobs account for around 23% of mainstream recruitment vacancies, so this isn't a trivial matter. (For a specialist recruitment company such as ourselves, where we're focused on a specific market and sets of skills, the percentage is actually higher.)

So, it doesn't matter that an average of twenty people are chasing these hard-to-fill jobs - many of them can't get filled by conventional means. The recruitment process tries - jobs are advertised, people apply, CVs are processed, people are interviewed… but still the job remains unfilled. It's not that the people aren't 'good enough' - they just don't have the right skills. The cost of going through the motions and finding yourself back at square one is costing the UK (deep breath) around £270 million a year - according to a report from learndirect.

In some cases, people are applying for jobs when they just don't have the skills to do them. This may become apparent when sifting CVs, or it may only become clear during an interview. In other cases, employers aren't screening CVs and applicants well enough.

But another factor is how applicants are attracted. When the job is in the hard-to-fill category, advertising may well not be enough. It seems reasonable to look at the unemployment figures and the number of applicants per job and assume that every job could be filled ten times over. Well, they could - but not with people who have the right skills!

Finding those people needs a wider net casting - it may include advertising, though this could be 'where they are' rather than 'where every other job under the sun is'. But it could also need a search-and-selection service - a company like Blue Eskimo to 'go deep' and find exactly the right person for the role. Someone we know can do it - because they have the right skills and are doing it now.


Working with the Learning & Performance Institute

Blue Eskimo enjoys a unique relationship with the Learning & Performance Institute, as its nominated recruitment provider. And, as a company that’s accredited by the LPI, we operate within its guidelines and uphold its standards.

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