Bright lights, big city

The recent economic upturn has exposed a need for highly skilled staff within the City, where there is insufficient talent to cope with demand. Andy Winterburgh says companies need to encourage staff to return to the capital, and then retain them

The swift change in economic climate is presenting new issues for organisations that, until recently, were prioritising cost management rather than attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, there is a severe shortage of high-quality candidates available and companies have to implement new strategies to meet this challenge or face missing out on the opportunities the market presents.

Reducing headcount

At the start of the downturn, the City looked to reduce costs. Headcount reduction was one of the first and most significant steps taken to achieve this. The job market was quickly filled with competent candidates who were unable to find work as the majority of firms were, at best, maintaining headcount. This forced many people to leave the City, taking their skills and experience with them. Working environments and job security suffered as employees saw raft upon raft of colleagues leave without being replaced, putting added pressure on those left behind - this, no doubt, took some of the shine off the City's glamorous image.

The recent upturn has led to a significant rise in the demand for high-calibre candidates, with some of the larger firms having hundreds of vacancies.

This follows a period during which almost no new blood entered the market and there is now near full employment across UK plcs.

Putting it all together presents a picture of insufficient talent to cope with demand. This is a view supported by a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, which states that one in four companies are being forced to look at recruiting staff from overseas to fulfil their needs.

This talent shortage is posing a significant problem to businesses that cannot attract the people they need to deliver on their plans and fully exploit the opportunities being offered for growth.

Different organisations are employing a variety of tactics to overcome this, but the starting point for many is to put in place practices to help them retain their existing personnel. Defining a retention strategy, identifying key people and determining what is required to retain them, is an important part of the process.

Working reviews

Many firms are conducting reviews of working practices and remuneration.

In an ideal world, all companies would be able to keep remuneration in line with the market rate, but budget restrictions mean this is not possible for many firms. In these cases, firms are reviewing alternative mechanisms or differentiators that will keep their staff happy, including making fresh fruit available for all staff and activity days to build morale.

Even with an effective retention strategy in place, firms will inevitably experience turnover. While retaining staff will provide the foundation upon which to grow, it will not provide all of the resources necessary to expand the business.

Competitive edge

Recruiting in a candidate-short market is all about gaining competitive advantage. Speed matters - the swifter the process, the greater the chance of success. It really is the little things that can make the difference, from arranging interviews promptly after receiving a CV, to feeding back to candidates within hours rather than days.

It is often forgotten that an interview is an opportunity to sell the vacancy and, indeed, the company to the candidate as well as vice versa.

It is important that any potential employee is given a positive impression of the firm, even if they are not right for the position applied for, as there may be another opportunity further down the line that is more suitable.

Looking for a commodity that is at best scarce, and at worst does not exist, is almost bound to fail leaving empty desks for ever longer periods.

Ultimately, it is better to train people without the skills but with the right attitudes and talents, than to have empty desks for months at a time. Having the training resources in place is, therefore, a valuable tool but will only be effective if those responsible for recruiting are educated on the benefits of employing this methodology to fulfil their requirements.

It is not going to be easy to win the war for talent; but implementing effective retention strategies, adopting new recruitment practices to both attract and make use of a wider talent pool and gaining commitment from everyone involved, will mean firms can win more of the battles.

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