Skill shortage and how to tackle it effectively and long-term

Skill shortage, in STEM areas and elsewhere, entail a whole lot of questions that employers are now forced to deal with on a regular basis: With the foremost one being how best to recruit skilled staff, there is also the challenge of actually keeping that member of staff over a preferably long amount of time and thereby, making sure the employee is not enlisted by another corporation. Not an easy task, keeping in mind that various companies currently struggle to fill vacancies in different occupations.

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29. September 2022

Yet, while HR complains about a lack of qualified applicants or non-sufficient experience proved in the latter, we might have reached a point where that time would better be invested into overthinking and adjusting recruitment techniques, current company culture and its priorities.

Upskilling of current employees

One approach to keep present employees as well as to attract potential new ones is to actively invest into upskilling programmes. Live Long learning is a concept that not only universities should preach but the business world urgently needs to adapt. If employees lack certain skills, there is always the possibility to train them! Especially in the IT sector, where a broad set of skills is required, one has never truly finished one’s training.

While appearing to be a daunting process at first, long term results of upskilling projects hence filling skill gaps can prove to be rather beneficial as opposed to the constant need of filling whole new positions. It is likely to be far less time consuming, less expensive, and much more convenient for employers to invest into upskilling programmes and further training of the existing workforce as to constantly recruit completely new members and introduce them into the company culture.

A study by McKinsey and Company states that while hiring new staff is a preferred method of companies to tackle skill gaps, the early stages of implementing re- or upskilling programmes of present employees has already proven to be a successful method, too. With respondents illuminating that their business impact from such programmes turned out to be greater or at least equal to the initial investment, it is safe to say there is really nothing to lose here.

Besides, a company which is able to provide opportunities for growth demonstrates to be a more attractive workplace for job seekers: The possibility to develop personally and professionally in one’s company turns out to be a significant factor in the choice of a new workspace for many people.

A shift in the definition of core competencies

Successful recruitment strategies nowadays require a change of mindset: While encouraging upskilling of current employees is a good start plus a smart way to keep existing employees, this step alone won’t solve the problem of understaffing. In order to deal effectively with the current skills shortage issue, companies should also broaden the span in which they look for possible workforce. Some applicants might not have a degree in the desired area but do offer a wide range of practical skills or transferable skills from other areas. Hereby, HR needs to shift their focus from hiring highly skilled specialists to considering generalists who might not be a master in the required field but do have a strong base in the area as well as in other areas which almost always turns out to be beneficial for the company culture. 

Motivation, perseverance, and practical knowledge which can be acquired through self-teaching often outshine theoretical education, particularly in the IT sector. Soft skills are frequently overlooked by HR even though these abilities tend to be lacking in some employees hence creating an unhealthy working atmosphere: Open communication, productive work in a team environment and the ability to carry out tasks independently with an approach to think outside the box are not only desirable but vital for successfully planning and implementing projects.

Career changers and their benefits

In the western lifestyle, it has become common practice for many people to change jobs or even whole career paths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a person has about 12 different jobs in their lifetime, varying only slightly between men and women. The seniority system is long outdated and nonlinear career change should be supported and embraced by the business world, wherever possible.

These potential employees not only bring a fresh perspective into the existing working culture but can also serve as important tie points between different areas of specialisations. Companies can only benefit from the resulting diverse work environment.

Diversity and Inclusion

Simultaneously, recruiting people from varying backgrounds automatically results in a working culture that is mainly marked by diversity. A concept which every company should strive for. We need to actively aim towards a company culture that includes people of different races, ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Especially in the STEM area which is predominantly represented by white men from academic backgrounds, a diversification is more than due.

Practically promoting diversity, equity as well as inclusivity is also an important factor in making people wanting to stay at their current place of employment: Toxic company culture was named one of the number one reasons why people were looking to quit their job in 2022.

Go with the flow

It is no secret that the pandemic has widely changed the perception of working culture for both, employer, and employee. Topics such as remote work or hybrid work have taken over a substantial part of day-to-day discussions in next to all companies. Now that restrictions are loosened in various countries, some firms aspire to revert to their pre-pandemic working style, which has, of course, proven to be rather difficult: According to Forbes, not allowing remote work is one of the top five reasons why people have left their current job in 2022.

However, the discussions do not end here: There are a variety of emerging concepts on the way which are to allow people more flexibility in managing their work-life balance: The four-day week pilot programme which is about to approach its final stage after a 6-month trial period in the UK has provided employees with a longer weekend while facing no loss of pay whatsoever. Similar schemes are taking place in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If this programme proves to be successful and beneficial for both sides and companies are starting to adapt to this working model, job hunters are likely to be more attracted towards the firms that are taking the plunge and are willing to try out new company structures.

Conclusion

The IT sector finds itself among the business areas facing the greatest need to actively address and tackle skill shortage and therefore, urgently needs to react to their current employers’ requirements as well as to their future potential workforce’s wants. Both can be realized if enough importance is placed on the methods, demonstrated above: With priorities and requirements of job hunters shifting, companies have to adapt rapidly and effectively in order to perpetually qualify as a desirable workplace.

Malou Baumann works as a freelance author for The Tab Leeds and as a research assistant for the Faculty of Computing at the LMU Munich. She is in her last year of studying Cultural Sciences and English at the LMU Munich. In the past, she has worked for the Goethe-Institute in London, broadening her knowledge about organizational structures in the creative industry.

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