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Survival skills in a candidate-short market.

Written by: Jonathon Sheppard is senior consultant, local government at Penna Consulting.
Published on: 17 Jun 2022

More than 24 months have now passed since the world was plunged into a global pandemic that changed our life forever. This paradigm shift has left behind it many legacies that will stay with us – not least of which is hybrid working. It has obvious benefits for both employees and employers alike, but it also comes with its drawbacks.

Many of our clients are reporting a higher than normal level of attrition among their workforces, with employees realising they can now consider career advancement opportunities from a much wider area than ever before.

We are also seeing reports of more and more individuals deciding on a change of career altogether. Many people looked inwards during 2020 and 2021, reassessing their life goals, ambitions, passions and direction in life, and there are some brave souls who had the courage to start again in something entirely different.

Additionally, we saw a marked increase in the number of local authorities opting to extend contracts for existing interim workers – choosing to retain certain skills and expertise that has typically proved difficult to acquire, even in ‘normal’ market conditions.

A ‘candidate-short’ market

All three factors have resulted in the recruitment market becoming dictated much more by availability of dependable and skilled candidates. We often refer to this as a candidate-short market and it can have a quite a dramatically detrimental effect on organisations’ recruitment campaigns. Imagine a candidate who has notable experience of offering quality financial business-partnering support to a number of different local authority services, including social care and capital projects, for example. These skills are becoming sparsely available in the market and, as such, are now at something of a premium. Speaking specifically about the accountancy/finance market, it may not surprise you to hear that these skills (in particular, support for social care) still top the list of the most desired skills from our clients in 2021. Equally unsurprising was the second most demanded skill; leading and/or supporting the closure of accounts – with the availability of candidates possessing both of these skills at an all-time low.

Anyone familiar with the basics of economics will understand that a lack of supply drives up price. The recruitment market is no different – and a candidate with skills that we’ve referred to will have more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating a rate. It also means that such a candidate is more likely to have several different options to choose from with many authorities seeking to acquire the same kind of experience and knowledge (not to mention that having a geographically convenient work location is no longer a serious consideration). Lastly, we’re even starting to see this manifest itself into candidates being in a position to make reasonable demands of potential suitors – most of which are willing meet these demands in order to secure the candidate and beat out competing organisations.

For hirers, this candidate-short market is something that they’ll need to consider carefully ahead of any recruitment campaign – be that permanent or interim. We suggest that you plan your approach to the market, work with your HR partners to develop your employer value proposition (EVP) and determine how you’ll attract the best talent to your organisation. In addition, do ensure recruitment campaigns are well planned and respond quickly when it comes to interviews, decisions and appointments.

Retention, more important than ever?

Perhaps more pertinently though, our advice would be to apply some time, effort, and strategic thinking into the retention of staff.

Above, I mentioned the increasing desire of organisations to hang on to skills and experience on the interim side by extending contracts for longer periods than usual. While authorities also do everything that they can to similarly retain these skills among their permanent members of staff, there is often less resource available for authorities to do this in an expedient way. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the increased ‘play’ we’re seeing in the permanent workforce!

Often, the grass can seem a little greener on the other side of the fence; it is flattering to realise that another organisation values your experience so highly when perhaps you don’t get the same level of appreciation from the company you’ve been with for x number of years. Then, there’s the opportunity to ‘work’ in a completely different area that can be very attractive and offer a sense of adventure, or other organisations may be able to offer better career pathways with different structures of management and approaches to succession planning etc.

Ensuring good succession planning is in place, constantly developing your organisation’s EVP, staying well connected to your team(s) and rewarding your staff where possible are all easy enough to do. Engaging on a personal level, like checking in with their mental health, or doing something as simple as vocalising your appreciation of them, their skills and their hard work will go a long way. Then, addressing/improving your organisation’s policy on increasingly important subjects like mental health awareness, diversity and inclusion, social mobility, wellbeing at work and keeping your workforce connected in a meaningful way will all be the next vital factors when it comes to improving retention. n

Jonathon Sheppard is senior consultant, local government at Penna Consulting.