Recruitment – correcting the course for a post-Brexit skills shortage

by in Business, Recruitment

We seem to be undergoing quite the phenomena in Britain.

In the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and skilled labour jumping ship, Britain is expected to face a skills shortage; this will only be fuelled further by the government’s stance on freedom of movement and the lack of training in upskilling workers within the UK. REC Jobs Outlook suggests that within the Engineering and Healthcare sectors, there is a shortage of candidates with recruiters struggling to fill roles.

In the aftermath of a booming economy, it is predicted that the growth of graduate jobs is likely to increase by 11%, particularly benefiting the public sector. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that between December 2017 to February 2018, there were 32.26 million people in work, 55,000 more than what was recorded for September to November 2017 and 427,000 more than a year prior. Yet, the same stats show that there were 1.42 million unemployed people within the same timeframe.

So, what in good ol’ Blighty is going on?

Last week, I attended the REC Inclusive Forum, where the agenda revolved around gender pay gap reporting and how the recruitment industry can be more inclusive towards women, workers with disabilities and encouraging companies to be more accepting of Britain’s ageing workforce and not striking off their skillset based on a certain perception.

The forum gave some interesting food for thought, particularly around the female workforce and representation within the industry.

Sue Coe, Head of Employment at the EHRC, outlined the strategy for gender pay gap reporting. In April 2017, men earned 18.4% more than women across the UK. Companies with 250 employees and above have been required by the government to publish their reports on gender pay gap within their organisations. Although Coe’s narrative asked us to focus on the drivers around the gap and not on the numbers, it is hard to ignore the stark differential, especially when so much of the female workforce is economically inactive. With initiatives like shared parental leave, the government is encouraging families to find the balance and for new mums to go back to work sooner than anticipated, and for dads to become more involved in the household dynamics. The initiative is all very well, but there is evidence to suggest that in a two-parent household, the female counterpart is earning less (particularly if she is part-time) than her male one, and it makes economic sense for the dad to go back to work. In a report by Credit Suisse in 2016, data showed that countries like Norway who have a flexible approach to working showed 46% of women in a top leadership role. Compare that to the UK, and the numbers are significantly lower (22.8%, to be precise).

It is still astounding that with the rise of campaigns like This Girl Can, Me Too and celebrating the female lead of the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman, the age-old question still boils down to – “Is she able to commit to the role?” or “Does she have too much on her plate?” which is sadly code for “Does she have children and will it affect her work?”. It’s interesting how in a digital world where the office space is very much virtual, the word ‘flexibility’ still raises eyebrows on how the workload will be managed. Although the demographic here is primarily female, it is suggested that a lot of men worry about their career progression when requesting flexible hours and hence are reluctant to approach this with their employers.

Tamanna Miah and Vanessa Raimundo from the Young Women’s Trust gave a thought-provoking talk on the struggles they are facing as young women finding employment, and how the industry is letting down the young generation of labour where work experience in the buzzword even for entry-level positions. I have heard of the recruitment and interview process as being referred to as the equivalent of ‘speed dating’. Personally, I like to think of it as one with more hurdling than a 400 m race. With the level of complication that can make a skilled worker’s head spin, it is no wonder that the new candidates are finding the process increasingly overwhelming.
You would think that with a country anticipating the impending doom of a post-Brexit world, employers would be a little more interested in investing in and placing young females and a skilled female workforce in suitable roles. Statistics are showing a candidate-led market, yet anecdotal evidence both from candidates and recruiters is suggesting otherwise.

Let’s take away from the narrative of female workforce and focus on the other unsung heroes that make up the UK workforce.

Richard Eliot, HR Manager of Manpower Group, spoke around the key learnings of the government campaign – Disability Confident. According to a study commissioned by the PMI Health Group, 37% of UK workers believe that their disability is a barrier towards career progression. In the study, 17% also responded by saying that their employers hadn’t taken effective measures to accommodate their disability. In a report published by the House of Commons, 3.8 million people with disabilities of working age were economically inactive, with an unemployment rate of 9% compared to the 3.8% for those without disabilities. The government is pledging to improve these figures, but as discussed at the REC forum with the room full of industry representatives, the change within the industry cannot only come from the top. Most recruitment agents can argue the case for a certain type of candidate, particularly if it ticks all the boxes that their clients have listed out for them. But would one actively advocate the case for a candidate with a disability? While there are initiatives and campaigns out there to encourage employers to opt in, the conscious or unconscious bias of hiring an employee with disabilities remains and is one that will need a wider conversation within the workplace.

Our partners, the REC, have been working on the Good Recruitment Campaign which encourages employers to hold themselves and their recruitment practices to a higher standard; they are also leading a coalition of employers and think tanks to set up an aspiring view of what the future of jobs will shape up to be by 2025. With the focus shifting towards changing the dynamics and perception of candidates from within organisations, there is a slight glimmer of hope for the workforce and the recruitment industry in a post-Brexit world. With consultants actively influencing clients to see the bigger picture, we might be able to get to a position where we might be able to weather the storm that Brexit is likely to bring.