TJ interviews: ManpowerGroup’s Chris Gray

As skills shortages continue to concern organisations Chris Gray, director of ManpowerGroup UK & Ireland talks to TJ about the skills revolution they see happening and offers advice for the future

UK recruiters and businesses are experiencing both skills shortages and also elements of the great resignation. How did we get here?
The phrase ‘perfect storm’ has been well-used by the UK media in reference to food and petrol shortages but it is also relevant to the jobs market. A combination of changes brought about by the pandemic and Brexit are accelerating what ManpowerGroup has identified as ‘The Skills Revolution’. In the skills revolution, four trends drive changes in the workforce: shifting demographics, technological revolution, greater individual choice and the rise of client sophistication. These forces prompt organisations to be more agile and re-think how people and businesses interact and work – and this is ever more the case in today’s climate where talent is in high demand. This is for a number of reasons:
Businesses which contracted during the start of lockdown but have bounced back in a big way this year are creating new roles which need to be filled. 
Candidates and employees have gained a great deal of insight from remote working about how and where they want to work, plus they have developed a strong awareness of their life priorities during the pandemic. 
The economic rebound and growth in hybrid working means employees are being more selective about where they choose to work and are being presented with far greater opportunities than before. 
In addition, Brexit has meant there are fewer EU workers available to fill jobs.
All of these issues and circumstances have played a huge role in creating talent shortages. 
Aside from upskilling the current workforce, what other strategies can businesses put in place to counter the skills shortage?
ManpowerGroup has developed an approach to help organisations recruit and retain more workers and reduce the talent shortages for businesses: Build, Buy, Borrow and Bridge. 
Build is the upskilling and investing in the learning and development of your current workforce – retention is key when competition for candidates is fierce.
Buy is going to market to find the best talent that cannot be built in-house in the timeframe required. Here, a proactive approach may pay dividends. Get in touch with those people who aren’t necessarily looking for jobs but who may be persuaded to move employers if presented with the right opportunity and offer.  
Bridge is helping people move on and move up to new roles inside or outside the organisation. This demonstrates staff appreciation and shows them you recognise their value, which is integral to relationship building. Similarly, look at those working in industries closely aligned to yours and see if there are candidates there who may have the transferable skills you require.
Borrow is about cultivating communities of talent outside the organisation, including part-time, freelance, contract and temporary workers who complement your workforce’s existing skillset. The flexibility they offer not only solves a short-term solution but in the long-term some of these individuals could become permanent members of the team.
Are businesses finally waking up to the importance of investing in performance improvement, from your experience?
Currently 77% of UK employers are reporting talent shortages, businesses appreciate now more than ever the importance of performance improvement. These days it isn’t as simple as hiring someone new with the required skillset if your workforce is missing something. Added to that, in a candidate-driven labour market, retaining current staff – and upskilling them where necessary – is a high priority. Employees need to feel they are contributing to the success of the company – they need to know what success looks like and they need to feel valued and heard. Businesses increasingly appreciate that performance improvement helps find opportunities for employees to develop their skills; through identifying areas where they can grow their abilities and responsibilities and broaden their experience. In addition, a well-managed, efficient company is not only a good place to work but is also attractive to potential candidates.
What’s the outlook for 2022 and beyond? Do you see a positive jobs market?
The latest ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey, which asks UK employers if they intend to hire additional workers, maintain current headcount or reduce the size of their workforce in the coming quarter, reveals employers have ambitious plans to increase their headcount at a record rate as they enter the fourth quarter, and expectations are that this trend will continue into early 2022.
More than a quarter of employers are increasing wages as an incentive to fill roles, however we need to see a comparable rise in productivity to sustain these wage bumps. Some employers are turning to other benefits to entice new workers; we’re seeing many offer joining bonuses, additional annual leave, enhanced training opportunities and hybrid working options – such as employees selecting their own shifts. These non-financial incentives are particularly popular in industries such as hospitality and retail where profit margins don’t allow significant wage increases. However, some of these changes aren’t sustainable as a long-term solution to fill the talent gap.
The long-term solution to the talent shortage has to be reskilling the existing workforce and upskilling those entering. But these changes don’t happen overnight, it can take a while to build up the skills that you need in an economy. In the short-term we need to have a migration system in place that helps us fulfil the immediate needs of our economy and lets us ‘buy’ in those skills which are in demand. If these adaptations take place, then the outlook for 2022 could be very positive – with a happy and productive workforce resulting in a win-win for all.
Chris Gray is director of ManpowerGroup UK 


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