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A different approach to hiring for the narrow the skills gap

Neil Hammerton
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We are currently facing what some are describing as a ‘pervasive’ skills shortage. Whereas previously, employers had their pick of a queue of applicants for one job, now they and recruiters are having to be much more proactive in finding relevant CVs. Contributor Neil Hammerton, CEO & Co-Founder – Natterbox.

There are many factors at play in creating this shortage, from a 42-year low unemployment rate to the pace of change brought on by technology innovation. What we can agree on however, is that the situation isn’t going to suddenly change – so we need to look at other ways of getting the talent that we so desperately need.

For me, it is a case of being more creative about recruitment. As employers, we need to accept that the traditional approach that has worked for us for so long is no longer relevant to today’s job market. Instead, we need to look outside of our traditional hiring routes and recognise that to get the talent we need, we might need to create it. By that, I mean looking for people who have drive, passion, ambition and a genuine desire to want to work in our industry and training them.

Go fishing in a bigger pool
For years, there has been an accepted truth that to work in certain industries – technology being one of them – a degree will give you a better chance of getting a job. There is certainly a lot to be said for a degree and other impressive qualifications, but they aren’t the be all and end all. Companies should open up their recruitment opportunities to a wider audience, looking for a balance of qualifications and experience.

For example, one of the most important things I look for on a CV is a candidate’s interests outside of work. Granted, triathlon experience in practise may only pay off on the annual work sports day, but it’s the transferable skills behind that experience – resolve, persistence, hunger – that will go a long way in any business. Perseverance, in particular, is an attribute I have found to be key to success. I once interviewed a candidate for a sales role who told me she didn’t want a base salary, simply 100 percent commission. A bold statement, but one that demonstrated an extremely high level of confidence in her ability to fulfil the job role requirements. When you find those kinds of people, you need to snap them up.

It’s important to remember that the best candidates don’t always come from the traditional interview-based hiring route. One of my most unusual hires started in a petrol station. A young woman who had struggled to get a job due to her background – working class with minimal education and a lack of qualifications. But when given a chance and left to her own devices, she was able to build things on our platform quicker than any of our existing employees. We would never have found her through the traditional recruitment route and her talents could still be wasted in a petrol station.

Look closer to home
Bringing in fresh blood and energy is vital to any successful business. But equally as important are current employees and giving them the opportunities to grow and develop. If you have a job opening or are looking to create a new focus area within the business, ask around your current staff and see who might be interested in the opening. Supporting that internal move could mean retaining a valuable member of staff that otherwise might have gone elsewhere for a new challenge.

This is another reason why staff reviews are so important. They are an opportunity for an honest conversation about how that staff member is performing, where they can improve and whether they are interested in expanding their skill set or experience.

Regular complaints in the workplace usually come back to the feedback process in reviews and how generic some managers can be when people aren’t doing well. For someone to succeed, sometimes you must be cruel to be kind. A member of management should never use the term “need to improve”. Be helpful by calling out the specifics, otherwise that staff member will never feel empowered to change.

Ultimately, people are like sponges – they learn quickly if they are bright and given the opportunity. The problem is that they can be missed if the hiring criteria is too narrow, or management fail to nurture them in the right direction. As business management author Tom Peters once said, “hire for attitude and train for skills”.


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