Top tips for high-growth businesses struggling with the skills crisis

By Michael Doolin, below, founder and Group Managing Director,  Clover HR

Businesses in the UK are struggling to recruit the talent they need to accelerate their success – and it’s not just a matter of the skills they need being in short supply. Rather, there’s a widespread shortage of available workers on the job market as a whole, be it down to the ageing population, post-Brexit migration or a lack of funding that’s decimating sectors as disparate as healthcare and entertainment.

One of the biggest factors behind the current skills crisis, however, is young people quitting. Gen Z – made up of those born between 1996 and 2010 – has been hit particularly hard by rising inflation, no longer seeing value in working long hours, under prescriptive rules for pay that doesn’t stretch very far. In fact, a desire for flexibility and autonomy has caused many to abandon traditional work altogether, with Fiverr reporting that 71% of those aged 16 to 26 in the UK are now engaging in some kind of self-employment or planning to go freelance very soon.

If companies are to survive in such a talent-scarce market – made worse by the fact that baby boomers are coming to the end of their long-standing careers – something clearly must give. Recent research from 360Learning found that 60% of managers feel a high turnover of young people is wreaking havoc in recruitment, particularly since the demand for workers with cutting-edge skills exceeds the available talent pool, making it difficult to find replacements.

So, what can employers seeking to company growth do to secure talent, protecting themselves from the impacts of a rising ‘freelance generation’?

Work with staff to boost skills and improve retention

If you’re not already doing so, skills mapping is a great place to start. Knowing exactly which skills you have and which ones you’re likely to need in the future will help you to stay on top of recruitment, making it more likely that you can capture the attention of a waning candidate market. Remember to factor turnover into your planning strategy, too, particularly given that younger generations are more likely to job hop than their senior counterparts, be it in search of new experiences or of opportunities near and far.

Of course, investing in both upskilling and reskilling strategies is also a must. Regardless of the sector you work in, ongoing training has always been imperative in order to keep pace with growing markets, shifting practices and new technological developments. One such example is generative AI, which, according to IBM, will require 1.4 billion people to reskill within the next three years. Plus, on-the-job training is a great way to ensure that existing recruits stick around, with Fiverr revealing that 34% of young people feel the ability to build skills at work is paramount to their decision to accept a new role.

Offer rewards beyond the financial

Fair wages naturally go a long way towards changing Gen Z’s perception of an unfulfilling job market. Nevertheless, in order to capture the hearts and minds of workers today, employers must think about other rewards beyond the financial, such as fostering a positive office culture and improving the experiences of employees in general. This might be as simple as implementing rewards schemes, offering free drinks and snacks or holding regular meetings to discuss personal ambitions and goals, for example – anything to ensure that people feel appreciated, listened to and valued. The end result will be happier employees who are more embedded in your business and therefore less likely to walk away with their skills.

It’s important to make sure that others outside the organisation know about this positive culture, too. In fact, Fiverr discovered that 35% of Gen Z workers see good workplace culture as a primary decision-making factor when it comes to accepting a new job. So, advertising what you have to offer in terms of workplace satisfaction is a must. Platforms like Glassdoor and LinkedIn are a great place to start, as is building a strong social media presence on platforms like TikTok, which are more likely to capture young people’s attention.

Move with the times

Finally, companies must practice acceptance, embracing new attitudes towards work and supporting young people, rather than pushing for an outdated status quo.

A study led by Kantar found that almost half of Gen Z employees now have at least two different jobs, with many supplementing their main source of income with passion-driven side hustles. Rather than seeing this as a sign of compromised dedication, they should see it as an opportunity to bring a wider set of skills back into the workplace.

Skills-focussed employers will also improve staff retention by providing those with multiple jobs with the appropriate support. This can help to reduce burnout, in addition to reducing the risk of quiet quitting – where people do the bare minimum whilst mentally checking out. It’s simply a matter of ensuring that primary roles remain as fulfilling as possible, paying attention to skills, training and wellbeing to provide better employee value.