Is Talent Acquisition a barrier to growth in East Anglia?

Talent is sometimes defined as the top 20% of the workforce; those that are contributing most to the organisation’s success [80/20 Pareto Principle] but I rather believe that all employees should be making a contribution to business or organisational success and therefore all should be regarded as talent.

As Bill Shankly, the famous Liverpool Manager once said, “If you’re not interfering with play what are you doing on the pitch?” In the world of work “If you’re not contributing to the organisations success why is the business employing you?”

East Anglia has a growing population of approximately 6.15 million people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of €202 Billion [Eurostat, 2018], representing 9.3% and 8.4% of the UK population and GDP respectively. Unemployment is one of the lowest in the UK 3.9% and below UK average of 4.4% [2017 figures], and whilst much of the region benefits from its proximity to London it has its own economy; somewhat reliant on services including financial services sector, it is also active in Manufacturing, Agricultural [and related sectors such as food processing and cold storage], IT Software & Bio-Pharm have hubs of Cambridge, with its strong research heritage, and creative and digital industries and a vibrant small businesses sector in Norwich. More investment is needed to improve infrastructure including rail, road & broadband.

Some of our largest employers are in agriculture and food processing which are heavily reliant on migrant workers. While in the high skilled specialist occupational such as; IT, AI Software & Bio-Pham, employees tend to be highly educated, and more able to move with work opportunities beyond the East Anglia region.

In the current economic environment, employees, especially the most talented employees, with sought after skills, have a choice. It is not a surprise then, that some employers across the region struggle to recruit and retain talent. This undoubtedly hinders business growth as it is acknowledged that people are an organisations greatest asset and contribute to organisational success.

Employer Response

Employers struggling to attract and retain talent might respond to the challenge of finding suitable talent in a number of ways;

1. The first response is to poach talent from a direct competitor. Most employers seek to recruit an employee who has done exactly the same job from a direct competitor as this is perceived to be the least risky option and the person should require minimal training but need to think outside the box.

2. Employers might try to identify and recruit from a wider pool of candidates. This might mean stretching the geographical boundaries – searching in a wider area – or being more flexible in their recruitment criteria – could someone from the Nuclear industry have transferable skills and cultural mindset to adapt to the Aerospace industry for example?

3. Employers might choose to “offshore” work, or in other words have the work done in another location [which could be another part of the UK or overseas], where the talent is more abundant, and the business environment more favourable.

4. Employers might be able to automate the work using robotics or artificial intelligence so that less talent is needed. We are seeing this increasingly with large distributors such as Amazon and Ocado using robotics in highly automated warehouses. The Vauxhall Luton Van factory, which I visited recently uses robotics and the production line is quite automated, although using teams of people. While companies like Uber are using technology to improve the customer experience.

5. Develop own talent – this tends to be the least popular option; however, some organisations believe in investing in their staff and tend to be good at attracting and retaining employees. Companies with Apprenticeship and Graduate Development Programmes demonstrate commitment to “growing your own”.

Essential in attracting talent is consideration of your “employer brand” – “why would someone want to work for you?” It is much more than money. Employers need to differentiate themselves in the labour market, in the same way as they differentiate their products or services, enabling them to recruit, retain and engage the right people. The employer brand needs to be consistent with the business brand and in the best examples [such as; G’s Fresh – one of the largest employers in East Anglia] is a consistent & joined up message communicating mission, vision and values.

It is important that the job role is defined in terms of job description and person specification or role profile. Website job-boards and creative recruitment companies can make it easy to register interest in a position at the click of a button, but this can mean that candidates are not very committed and choose not to pursue their “application”.

At interview stage companies need to consider the interview process & structure linked to employer brand. It is important to share information about the organisation as well as the job role and be realistic about what the organisation can offer. This is part of the psychological contract [or unwritten agreement] between employer and employee and critical that these “promises” are adhered to. We have worked with businesses in the region on a range of projects including helping a technology company to define their brand and story – it was a great compliment to hear from an applicant that the recruitment process compared favourably to that of industry leader Virgin Media. While in the catering sector we were able to host a “Bake-Off” style event to recruit chefs for a growing hospitality business.

Testing skills maybe appropriate and use of psychometric and diagnostic assessments may also be useful in providing additional insights into behavioural preferences and higher-level knowledge and understanding. You might also consider recruitment events and use of Assessment Centres – using a variety of test and exercises in a group setting to gain insights into how candidates behave and interrelate.

The final piece of the recruitment process is pre-employment screening. Most commonly this means reference checks, and right to work checks but can also mean criminal record checks, social media screening, credit checks, educational and credential verifications, DVLA checks, & public safety verifications. With new GDPR regulations it is important for to identify whether there is a legitimate interest in running a check, and whether the check is proportionate.

The current low unemployment and stable regional economy means that employees, especially those regarded as talent are in demand. Some organisations in East Anglia are finding it difficult to recruit and retain key employees which is an impediment to growth.

Employers need to consider their existing talent pool and seek to grow and develop their own people as an alternative to external recruitment.

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