A shrinking talent pool, evolving work and lifestyle patterns and new attitudes to incentives are all having a profound influence on recruitment.

A recent session in our People Summit Series brought experienced HR practitioners, decision makers and senior executives together to discuss these developments and explore new strategies for attracting and retaining talent.

Scarce and selective: today's employees

Businesses recently surveyed by ManPower Group reported a significant shortage of tech talent, with 45% of employers having difficulty filling jobs. This is confirmed by our own clients, who say employees in tech sectors are hard to find, and difficult to retain.

By 2020, 35% of the global workforce will be millennials, with very specific ideas on career priorities and employment security. 12% of them say it's unlikely they will ever retire, putting the onus on employers to find work models that keep them energised and engaged throughout their careers.

Attracting the right skills

Unum UK's Future Workforce report described the four main categories of future employees:

  1. Tech enhanced – adopting continuing advances in tech and wellbeing to enhance their everyday lives and work. Employers will need to incentivise these employees through imaginative use of tech development and wellbeing programmes.
  2. Obligated – squeezed between raising children and caring for elderly parents, the 'sandwich generation' seeks financial security and fulfilling careers they can tailor around life events. Flexible working is essential, and they look for training/reskilling initiatives and financial incentives such as income protection and sponsored child or elderly care.
  3. Self-fulfilled – individuals with a multi-career approach based on personal development, lifelong learning and honing new skills. They need a framework that accommodates flexible working and offers opportunities such as reverse mentoring, shared networks and knowledge-building complementary work.
  4. Socially committed – these workers look for employers who share their concerns about the impact businesses have on communities and environment. They're attracted by strong CSR commitments, company targets and personal rewards linked to social initiatives, connections to groups with common interests, and volunteering opportunities.

Aspiration versus reality

This generation of employees this may seem to be particularly demanding. Yet their 'wish list' aligns with many employers' needs: developing their specialist 'hard' skills alongside relationship and communication 'soft' skills and fostering the agility to adapt and evolve with organisational, technological and life changes.

If employers and employees share these values, why is recruiting so difficult? The problem at least partly lies with education: our system has not, and currently does not, produce sufficient numbers of suitably skilled potential recruits.

This makes it all the more vital to communicate effectively with the available talent, and ensure your recruitment strategy appeals to them.

A practical action plan

Our People Summit session outlined a practical recruitment strategy for employers:

  • Determine not only the skills the role requires, but also the personality, outlook and soft skills you want. There are innovative ways to assess this, such as gamification.
  • Be confident in your talent acquisition strategy. Work closely with your recruiter and make sure they understand your business objectives, value and culture.
  • Be open to feedback and challenge on what or who you might need, and what candidates are looking for.
  • Explore other ways to source talent, such as apprenticeships and collaborating with institutions that can shape the talent you'll need in the future.
  • Tapping into your alumni is a useful, free recruitment tool, so stay connected with them; word of mouth and networking is usually effective.
  • Make sure you communicate your value proposition to candidates: your purpose, culture, opportunities, etc. Successful organisations view HR not simply as people management, but as marketing tailored to the workers they want.

How critical are incentives?

According to the Incentive Research Foundation, future workforce tiers will be defined by incentives as well as salary. Top performing companies such as Google and American Express are successfully using non-monetary incentives to engage and motivate their staff. Where demand for talent exceeds the supply, incentives are highly effective.

They could be CSR or ethically related, focused on a more agile or longer working life, or offering more time or money to pursue complementary activities. They might involve reverse mentoring or the ability to try different roles. They could also be as simple as posting about employee successes or running peer-to-peer recognition programmes.

If you're an international employer, offering global roles and projects can motivate workers across locations and cultures. Technology can help mitigate any complexity, and you'll benefit from more engaged, collaborative staff.

  • Upskilling and autonomous development. Have a clear yet adaptable accelerated learning and development programme. Wherever possible, allow employees to take ownership of how they do this, for example by creating internal learning groups and sessions.
  • Flexible HR structures and contracts. Using HR initiatives to increase individual responsibility and enhance trust can improve flexibility, by helping employees develop their self-management skills, agility and resilience.
  • Use alternative employee engagement models. Different engagement models require flexible approaches. Know where to find such talent and how to attract it.
  • Use your culture and values creatively. Develop incentives that will resonate with your ideal future workforce. Betting exchange business Smarkets operates a self-management structure, where workers decide when to come in and what they'll work on. Craft beer company BrewDog offers employees 'paid puppy leave' – a week of paid leave to help their dogs settle at home!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.