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Strategic Approaches to Skill Shortages


Skill shortages have been a hot topic for the past few years and the World Economic Forum highlight every year the volume of roles and skills and roles which will become obsolete in the very near future with the emergence of AI tools such as ChatGPT this will only escalate. AI is just the latest in a long list factors which have exacerbated the need for new skills including changes in patterns of work, life and commerce post Covid and the impact of Brexit on available talent pools.


It is unlikely that a business of any decent size does not face skills shortages. This could be because you do not have a sufficient number of employees in key roles, or because the employees you do have in role do not have the skills required to take your business forward. Whilst reskilling your existing employee base is critically important for any business we are not going to review this in depth in this article. Instead, we are going to focus on what you can do to attract and retain employees to specific roles.


Understanding Your Skills Shortage

Before deciding what steps to take to address your skills shortages it is important to ensure you understand what is causing these shortages. Questions to ask yourself include:

· Is this isolated to a particular role?

· Is it isolated to a particular location?

· Is it isolated to us a business?

· Is it isolated to us as an industry?

· What factors have led to this skills shortage?

· What upcoming factors will change impact this skill shortage positively or negatively

Understanding your specific context is critical as you can then set out an approach which is targeted to your situation.

As with short term skills shortages the range of solutions is endless and limited only by your own creativity. The best solutions are team efforts where support functions such as HR, Learning and IT come together with Operational teams to work on solutions. If struggling for solutions look to other industries or sectors who have been facing their acute staffing shortages for longer.

Below are a few areas to consider when deciding which approach is best for you.


Understand your Competition and Market position

Where there are talent shortages it is important to understand where existing talent is both inside and outside your organisation. You also need to understand who else is looking to secure these talented people. You can then start to understand where you sit in relation to the competition. You should consider this holistically looking at perception and well as reality. Consider a broad range of factors such as pay, reward and recognition, progression and development, autonomy, support and working culture. Once you have identified your relative position you can consider making adaptations and refine your retention and attraction plans.


Tap into New Talent Pools

Where there are talent shortages you might find looking at alternative talent sources can become a useful part of your strategy. Consider those who may have recently left the industry. These could be retirees, those who have taken career breaks or been on maternity or paternity leave. It could be looking at industries with very similar core skills sets. Once you have identified these potential pools you will need to understand what might attract them to return. This could be non-traditional hours, flexible contracts or a tailored benefits package. You should also consider what training and support they would need.

It is also worth considering how these adaptations might impact your existing workforce.


Grow Your Own

Where skills shortages are acute, the best option may be to develop these skills yourself. In some cases, this might seem like an option not worth considering as it is perceived to take too long. However even then it should be considered as part of your approach as unless your skills shortage is genuinely a blip, then you are likely to face these challenges on an ongoing basis. I have worked in organisations who have dismissed these options as “X” years is too long to bring in those skills, however “X” years later they are still facing the same if not worse shortages.

Developing your own, can be creating career paths into relevant specialisms, providing incentives and rewards to encourage that skill development or using frameworks and funding such as Apprenticeships in the UK. It is important if growing your own that you consider your approach to retention alongside this so you do not merely become a talent factory for others.


Look at All the Options

In some cases a mindset that you must own those skills and the people with them by having them on your payroll can prevent you finding workable solution. Models such as “Buy, Build, Borrow, Bot” get you to take a more holistic approach to skill shortages by considering whether you can eliminate the need for a reliance on hard to fins skills or find them from places other than within your own workforce.

These are just a few options to consider when looking at developing your strategy to navigate long term skills shortages. For further insights into other workforce planning approaches you can consider a good starting point is our podcast episode with Adam Gibson where we discussed Agile Workforce Planning or you might be interested in Adam's book on Agile Workforce Planning.


Written by James Poletyllo, Founding Director of the Learning Effect

The Learning Effect exists to help businesses enhance their performance through their approach to learning. Our wealth of in-house experience combined with our knowledge of the learning tech market and results driven approach make us your go to partner if you are looking to review and change your approach to your learning strategy, the structure and skills of your learning team or your learning technology get in touch.


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