Leaders today face challenges from all directions. None have easy solutions: the rising cost of living is pushing employees to leave their jobs or demand higher pay, but wage hikes will deepen the problem of inflation; staff like the flexibility of remote work, but are concerned about delayed career progression, isolation and preferential treatment to those who come into the office; businesses must invest in their teams to grow back from the pandemic, but are pushed into mass lay-offs to save costs.
By far the biggest challenge of our generation is the so-called talent crunch. The gap between the skills businesses have and the ones they need is nothing new. But the last two years have changed some of the dimensions; graduates of the pandemic postponed courses, unsettling the flow of entry-level professionals coming into the job market. Juniors already in work missed out on the chance to upskill and move into mid-level roles, leaving a schism between young and old. Sudden digitisation let areas of the economy scale quickly, but only made worse the shortage of highly skilled tech experts and sales gurus.
Clearly, businesses cannot keep raising wages to solve the supply issue. This wave of lay-offs comes, in part, as companies are forced to go back on overly generous pay packages handed out last year. Renewed demand for specialist skills created a bubble that sooner or later had to pop.
Wages are and will remain an essential consideration when starting a new role, but seeing yourself growing in a healthy environment is what will make you stay
Again, there is no easy answer. But as it becomes harder to find talent, leaders will always have to come back to the supply shortage. Where the job market is unable to provide the skills most in demand, it will fall on businesses to offer better learning and development opportunities for the upcoming generation.
A combination of paid-for training and peer mentoring schemes will go a long way toward mending the gap between junior and senior staff. Broadening the search to include those who have most but not all of the experience in demand will bring down costs, allowing businesses of all budgets to attract staff who will add value to their business.
This is important: a wage-driven market will only price out the smaller companies most in need of growth. Investing in learning and development allows companies to stand out on how well they foster a dynamic culture and how well they inspire a sense of purpose in their employees. Employers are then chosen not strictly on what they can offer today, but on what they can promise to provide over the years as they invest in their staff.
After all, regardless of where people work, one of the main reasons they cite for leaving companies is a lack of space to learn new skills: 94% say they would stay longer at a company if given the opportunity to learn, and career progression is still the main draw for candidates drawn off elsewhere.
Building a culture that communicates to employees that their employer is invested in their growth is the difference that will allow good teams to hire and retain top talent at the start of their growth trajectory. Wages are and will remain an essential consideration when starting a new role, but seeing yourself growing in a healthy environment is what will make you stay. There are many small changes businesses can make to upskill their workforce and tackle the cultural problems of post-pandemic work outlined at the start of this article:
• Make time for reverse mentoring and rotating lunch-and-learns to give all members of the team an opportunity to show their worth and bring new voices into the conversation
• Redesign your office space to facilitate collaborative working, communicating the message that working from home is appropriate and acceptable for ‘deep’ work, and the office a place to build relationships and share ideas
• Create a knowledge hub within your workspace, on a web portal or via Slack, giving employees space to share industry excellence and inspiring news
• Consult with staff of all levels on how useful they find training to ensure resources are being used effectively. Including staff in decisions that concern them helps keep engagement high and gives them an active role in their success
• Encourage learning, using internal communications to acknowledge and celebrate personal achievements, aligning KPIs with a clear path for promotion, and rewarding those who go above and beyond to support colleagues.
Demand for skilled employees is on the rise. It will only get harder for companies to compete with the big players for the best talent. If they want to remain competitive, businesses today must find something even more important than money. They must foster an environment worth staying in, offering engaging, purposeful work with a clear commitment to personal and interpersonal development. It is time to stop seeking top talent. It is time to create it.