Battling for talent in a competitive market

Picture: Edward Moss

By Aaron Baker, above, an investor at BGF

Regardless of the sector or size, every company is finding it difficult to hire people with the right skills they need in a competitive jobs market. Historic issues surrounding talent, compounded by the likes of Brexit and COVID-19, have led to long-term skills gaps in numerous sectors, with many vacancy rates reaching record highs. The problem is being made worse by inflation: pay growth is failing to keep pace with soaring prices, as companies face a significant hike in the cost of doing business, whether it’s rising interest rates, increasing energy bills, or unpredictable prices when it comes to raw materials.

Addressing the issue of talent is more of a priority than ever for business leaders, with the focus firmly on getting talent acquisition right, and refining ongoing recruitment strategies to meet their ambitions to scale. So how can companies create a talent roadmap to support their growth? Our experience shows four steps are essential: 

  1. Nurture your employer brand

Although we work with growth companies to refine governance and add rigour to allow them to scale, we recognise that the culture created by each founder is special and is often the secret of a business’s success to date. Fast-growing, entrepreneur-led businesses can be very attractive to new hires and existing employees as they present opportunities for staff to work on many different projects, while contributing to a clearly defined purpose they support and believe in. People also want structure alongside this, however, and this shouldn’t be overlooked.

The most successful companies clearly communicate their growth ambitions and the associated career opportunities, as well as working hard to maintain a strong employer brand and culture, even as the business scales. 

  1. Access new talent pools in a remote-working world

Currently, nearly 45,000 jobs across the UK are being advertised as ‘remote working’ with another 61,000 offering hybrid contracts. Businesses, regardless of their location, are no longer limited to recruiting locally. Hybrid or remote working has become the norm in many workplaces, and having the option to do so is a priority for many job candidates.

It doesn’t apply to every sector, but most are well positioned to embrace this flexible mindset and companies can look across the UK and internationally to hire the talented and diverse workforce they need. It’s about accessing the right people wherever they are based, communicating effectively, and engaging them in the culture of the company from the start, so they feel united as a team. Managing culture, as well as training and progression, needs to be strongly considered in a remote world – it is far easier for employees to become disengaged outside of the hustle that the physical workplace brings, and those early warning signs of disengagement are harder to spot remotely. 

  1. Realise the benefits of networks 

Having the right experience within the business to handle the day-to-day management of a fast-growing company is essential. And when it comes to senior hires, networks are the key to finding experienced people.

As part of the investment process, we often identify areas where there may be a skills gap that we need to close for the business to grow to the next level. Sometimes these hires will be within the management team to ensure a well-rounded team, with enough collective capability and capacity to deliver ambition. This also supports long-term succession planning and creates the structure to build out teams with the right technical expertise.

BGF’s Talent Network, for example, has a connected portfolio of businesses with hundreds of experienced non-executive board members. Through BGF’s Expertise On-Demand service, it has also placed functional experts with portfolio businesses on an ad hoc or consultancy basis.

It is a huge advantage to be able to tap into the experience and expertise of a network of people who have been on the journey of scaling a business and leading a large organisation. 

  1. Build links with educational institutions to develop talent

Forging partnerships with education providers or developing their own training and development programmes is one of the most sustainable ways companies can close the skills gap and build a pipeline for future talent. This is particularly relevant where companies benefit from close access to  the UK’s universities and colleges.

For companies that have proved their product or service works and established a market, having access to the right people could be the final barrier to reaching the scale they are capable of.

It’s clear that the battle for the best people is fiercer than ever. With exponential growth in some sectors and the wider changes in what individuals are looking for in their careers, attracting and retaining people is one of the biggest challenges currently for most businesses.

What’s more, talent is the crux of what can give a business its competitive advantage and without a carefully considered talent roadmap, a skills shortage could be the ultimate barrier to a business’ growth.