The implications of what has been termed the ‘skills shortage’ need to be understood by every business owner. The ways we hire, train, remunerate and manage people will have to change, and so will the way we run our businesses.
Most countries have an aging workforce and a declining birth rate. What we call ‘baby boomers’ – a significant percentage of the workforce, are reaching the end of their working lives and are already beginning to retire. At the same time the declining birth rate means that fewer workers will be available to replace those who leave the workforce.
The Australian government identifies the following as the primary reasons for the growing worries about a shortage of skills:
the technology used in an industry changes
new technologies emerge
old industries move into different regions with a different skills base
job seekers’ interests in industries and occupations change.
A skills shortage does not necessarily mean that there are plenty of jobs for anyone interested in that area of work. Often there is only a demand for experienced workers with highly-specialised skills. The demand might only exist for a relatively short period of time; it might not be possible to train people to fill these positions before the demand falls once more.
But overall it means that it’s probably going to be harder to find skilled people for the jobs in your business. You’re going to have to pay more to get them and you’ll have to spend more to ensure they have the skills you need and to retain them. You’ll also have to make changes to the business itself.
The generations after the ‘baby boomers’, now called generations ‘X’ and ‘Y’ in the media, have entirely different attitudes towards work than their predecessors. They’re not as financially-driven and demand much more from their employers than just a regular pay-cheque and the occasional pat on the back.
Younger people want to choose not only the type of work they do but also to work for an ‘employer of choice’. They want to be part of an organization that reflects their own personal values and gives them opportunities to grow and develop in their work. Their skill sets are different from trades-trained workers of past generations and they have little interest in doing the same thing day after day.
How to keep the people you have
Research shows that an increasing value is being given by employees to their relationships with their employers. It is up to the employer to develop and nurture this relationship, as well as to keep it positive. The key requirement is that the employee feels they can trust their employer and that they are respected for their contributions to the organization.
This places unexpected demands on employers used to simply paying for what they get. In the future they’ll also have to create a workplace where their people feel good about where they are and what they do; they’ll have to share information about the business and offer forms of remuneration that motivate employees and reward them for the part they play in the organization’s growth and achievements.
Managers will have to be worthy of respect from their subordinates and not just lead by decree. They will have to improve their own skills to motivate and retain skilled workers, or risk losing them to employers perceived as being more desirable and progressive.
How to recruit good people
As skilled workers depart businesses around the world employers will have to change their recruiting practices from the prevailing use of third-party resources – recruiting firms and contractors. The days of employers being able to dictate terms of employment to get around industrial legislation are truly numbered.
Employers will have to take more responsibility for finding the right people for every position. They will have to exercise greater care in defining skills requirements and provide for more flexibility in job structuring and reporting relationships so these can be adapted to suit the people recruited.
To get the right people employers will have to be able to clearly articulate their organization’s values and project these into their business practices and their products. They will have to become more attractive to the decreasing pool of talent as well as differentiate themselves above their competitors.
How to be a better employer organization
According to a number of studies conducted to identify the characteristics employer organizations will need to have – or develop, these are some of the most important:
A system in place for gaining feedback from employees
Excellent communications with employees about the business and about their own performance
A willingness to develop employees’ skills, even if not directly related to their current position
Ethical and honest behaviour at all levels of the organization
A clearly articulated vision for the business
Work that is interesting and presents employees with challenges enabling them to grow
Managers and supervisors with demonstrable talent and abilities that create respect and trust
So, not only is it going to be harder to keep the people you have working with you; it’s also going to be harder to get new people to join your organization. Your future success or failure could well depend on your policies of recruitment and staff development and on how you respond to the challenges of restructuring your workplace.