Fishing in puddles: recruitment in 2022

I’ve spent a lot of this year so far speaking to HR people about recruitment and retention. The pain of the record vacancy numbers and lower participation rates is real. One HR manager described her experience of trying to find good candidates similar to ‘fishing in puddles’.

Whilst every sector is facing these challenges, many public sector organisations have been particularly badly hit. Without the freedom to increase salaries or offer golden handshakes, there is little that can be done to fight off competition in many jobs. Pre-Covid, this could be offset by a good offer around flexible working and ‘family friendly’ policies, but this is no longer a differentiator with so many employers embracing hybrid working.

So, what can be done to improve your chances of vacancy filling this year? In the market we’re in, changing your advertising approach or streamlining a recruitment process may not be enough. Instead, we need to be bold about partnering with managers to design jobs that people want to do and enabling those who may have barriers to work to find something which fits.

Purpose and interest

We do know that an impact of the pandemic has been many people re-evaluating their career choices and the much quoted (but probably exaggerated) ‘Great Resignation’. One common reason people move jobs is if they feel their job lacks purpose or meaning, and the events of the past two years have heightened the need for connection with our work. In one study, 9 out of 10 people were willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for work that gave them purpose — though perhaps appointing a ‘chief meaning officer’ may be taking things a little too far!

The pandemic has made us more aware of the importance around key worker roles such as nursing and social work, and has driven up applications. The challenge now is to ensure that every role has a clear purpose and the activities it undertakes connect to that purpose. Employers should lead recruitment efforts with the purpose and mission of the job and ensure that the role is focused on delivering that mission and not hampered by internal processes.

Inclusive job design

Our latest labour market statistics show that the groups currently struggling to get into work include older workers, those with disabilities and those living with long-term health conditions. Employers may need to work harder to create jobs which can unlock the talent in these groups.

There is scope here for job crafting. Whether its breaking down a job into the parts which need specific skills or experience versus those that don’t; or shaping a role around someone’s strengths and abilities, job crafting is an important tool for both managers and HR practitioners.

And now that many employers have upped their game on supporting flexible working, how can you stand out in the jobs market? All the interest in the four day week highlights that many people are interested in opportunities to work less. Why not be creative and offer a range of contracts / hours / flexibility that will appeal to a wide range of job seekers?

In-house progression and career development

We know that many people looking for work are not looking for ‘any job’ but want a good job with fair pay, terms and opportunities to progress. Offering meaningful career paths for people and supporting their ongoing skills development will assist with retention and engagement. As our own work on progression shows, this approach can work even in sectors (e.g. hospitality and social care) where career options have traditionally been limited. This is one area where you can really differentiate from working for an agency. Give people a sense of belonging and earn their loyalty by supporting their development.

And don’t forget that a good place to recruit talent for key roles is in your existing workforce. Are there people you can develop into the roles? Are you ensuring internal staff have the same opportunities as those you are trying to attract? One of the local authorities we have been working with has asked care support workers to come forward if they are interested in studying to be social workers and has some success stories from this — delivering a great example of investing in people.

Think long-term

While the focus is understandably on filling existing vacancies to deliver key services, it is equally important to embrace long-term workforce planning to ensure that you will have the staff you need in years to come. The decision in 2010 to keep recruiting fast stream graduates into Civil Service roles — despite a widescale recruitment freeze — ensured that a few years later, there was a capable cadre of people ready to step into critical management posts. Recruiting to apprenticeship and trainee posts now will widen the pool you have to draw from in three to five years’ time.

It is of course hard to know what upcoming changes will affect your workforce, this uncertainty should not be an obstacle to planning. If the past two years have taught us anything it’s that organisations and people are resilient even in the most difficult times. Consider the skills and resources you are likely to continue needing, or need more of, and ensure you are building a broad pipeline now to deliver the best chance of a strong long-term workforce.

In today’s tricky job market we would recommend that employers:

  • Lead with the job purpose — allow people to see the difference they can make.
  • Think inclusively about the job design and be flexible about how it can be undertaken.
  • Provide career progression opportunities and invest in staff development.
  • Have a workforce plan for the long-term, not just a recruitment plan for now.

Are there other creative solutions you’ve been using to address your workforce shortages? Please let us know! claire.campbell@employment-studies.co.uk

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.

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The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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