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Skills challenges threatens UK recovery, says Accenture study

Aimie Chapple, Accenture

London: 86 per cent of senior executives say that access to appropriately skilled workers is essential for economic recovery in the UK, according to new research published yesterday by Accenture.

However, more than half say it is difficult to recruit candidates with appropriate skills and nearly a third state that retention of high performers is currently a problem.

The survey of 401 senior decision makers in large UK businesses found that recruitment is a challenge at all levels: more than half (58 per cent) of respondents indicate that recruiting entry level workers with appropriate skills is a challenge, while 61 per cent say the same about middle management and 59 per cent say the same about executives. Staff retention compounds the difficulties as 35 percent of executives surveyed indicate retaining high performers and key talent is currently a problem and 35 percent expect it to be a problem in the next two years.

The difficulties with recruiting new staff may be compounded by the fact that the majority of executives who responded are focused on short-term needs when seeking new talent: Four out of five (80 per cent) say businesses consider immediate needs when recruiting new staff, while only 47 per cent consider the economic landscape of the next five years when recruiting and training staff.

"UK companies should consider re-thinking strategies for finding the skills they need to support growth," said Aimie Chapple, managing director — Accenture Management Consulting, UK and Ireland.

"To address skills shortages at all levels, as well as challenges holding onto existing talent, companies need to better integrate their recruitment, skills development and retention strategies. And it's clear that British employers need to think more seriously about the long term outlook when hiring talent, and not just the immediate future."

Strong commitment to skills investment

The Accenture study also found that 91 per cent of senior executives indicate investing in employees' skills is essential for their businesses to grow and nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) plan to invest in up-skilling their employees to achieve growth. When asked which three skills are most valuable to the success of their businesses, 61 per cent of respondents identified communication skills, followed by sector-specific technical skills (identified by 40 per cent) and analytics skills (30 per cent).

Despite the reported struggle to recruit appropriately skilled senior leaders, more than half (56 per cent) of executives indicate that training is focused more at recent graduates and junior staff members than on senior executives.

"A better skilled workforce can be achieved more cost effectively with smarter matching of people and roles," said Chapple.

"High performing employers often invest in capabilities that better capture sophisticated data about their constantly evolving talent pool. We often counsel large organizations to invest in tailored training and provide opportunities for job exchanges to foster an environment in which the best talent remains loyal."

Accenture has identified a number of strategies for companies tackling the skills gap to consider:

  • Establish programs and incentives — such as a searchable skills database and opportunities for talent mobility — to identify and leverage "hidden" talent within your organisation.
  • Identify more candidates by pre-screening with a rich array of data rather than strictly the experience and education listed in a curriculum vitae.
  • Make learning new skills an integrated component of work.
  • Take greater advantage of the European labour market to search for available talent. According to recent Accenture analysis of the European labour market, just under half (47 per cent) of organizations say they effectively utilise their domestic labour market to satisfy their skills needs, but only 28 per cent make use of the skills available within the rest of the EU).
  • Create horizontal networks to develop talent among companies in the same sector, and vertical networks between different sectors within the same supply chains, which can result in a more liquid market of talent available to all.

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