Northern Lights: To stay competitive, now is time for a 21st century view of employment

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You don’t have to go far to find a business talking about how difficult it is to find the right skills to help drive their growth, and this is despite the seemingly continuous succession of both national and regional interventions.

Indeed, the Sheffield City Region has, in recent years, led the way in this area with the Local Enterprise Partnership’s ground breaking challenge programmes that look to change national government policy.

In order to attract talented people, Sheffield City region’s employers really need to work hard in how they think about the people they need to employ

Perhaps the most noteworthy of these recently has been the LEP’s ‘Skills Bank’ program in which this national demonstrator seeks to realign public funding with the skills training that employers really believe will drive growth, rather than settling for just what is available.

Key to this program is a requirement for every employer accessing the program to make a contribution to the cost of the training which has, so far, been universally well received with our region’s employers, therefore beginning to prove that businesses will indeed pay for the right training when delivered in the right way and at the right time.

This is indeed good progress, but my own observations from running a regional recruitment business is that very often these sort of programs, welcome as they are, are not able to appropriately deal with some of the fundamentals about the way the world of work is changing.

The REC (Recruitment & Employment Confederation) relatively recently concluded from their research that in the UK economy over 48% of the employed population are neither in full time nor permanent work.

Regardless of whether you believe that this statistic is a positive or negative feature of our country’s labour market, it is undeniable that it has implications for traditional views of work which have to be challenged if we are to remain competitive as a region.

When, as employers, we look to appoint new positions or reappoint ones that have been vacated, we need to begin by challenging some of our traditionally held views.

How many of our region’s employers actively consider whether a job does indeed need to be full time or whether it would actually accommodate a ‘job share’?

Some of our own research from 2016 indicates that this is less than half (actually 39%).

The concept of a ‘job share’ versus full time employment may well be a minor point to many, but it is just the tip of the iceberg and hopefully begins to make a case that, in order to attract talented people, Sheffield City Region’s employers really need to work hard in how they think about the people they need to employ.

It is 20 years ago this year since Steven Hankin of the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co coined the phrase ‘a War for Talent’, in which they described their observations of an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees – and 20 years on it seems that is as relevant today as it was in 1997.

Today’s labour market is sometimes a mind-boggling mix.

It has widely been described as the most complex ever as we are indeed the first generation of employers who have had five different generations in our workforce – and Sheffield is not isolated from these challenges.

Our business’ employees very often include ‘Traditionalists’ (born 1945 and before), ‘Baby Boomers’ (born 1946 to 1964), ‘Generation X’ (born 1965 to 1976), ‘Millennials’ (sometimes referred to as ’Generation Y’) (born 1977 to 1995) and ‘iGen’ (born 1996 and after) all working side by side.

Whether this multi-generational workplace feels happy and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to us as the region’s employers and we need to be up for this challenge in order for our region to be truly competitive in global markets.

Our region’s employers increasingly need to be creative in their strategies to attract the best people in what is a more complex and more competitive market for skilled labour, and this is a facet of the skills discussion that is far too often missed by many.

In their work, McKinsey described, not a set of HR or recruitment processes, but instead a mind-set that acknowledges and re-enforces the importance of talent and skills labour to the success of business.

My question is that if Sheffield and the wider region can build a reputation for innovation in manufacturing, engineering and a whole range of other disciplines, surely we can and need to do it in the way we look to differentiate ourselves in the labour market?