With the UK facing widening skills gaps and the face of the workforce rapidly evolving, how can employers successfully source the talent they need into the future? This was the subject under consideration at ‘The Future of the Workplace’ in Manchester on the 8th November.

Broster Buchanan Talent Solutions are currently touring the UK with ‘The Future of the Workplace’; an event series which brings together the UKs leading employers to discuss their challenges in creating and nurturing a workplace fit for the future.

IBM, Shop Direct, Co-op, EDF Energy, Arlington Industries and Eurocamp were some of the businesses in attendance at the Manchester event. Lee Andrews, Head of Talent Acquisition for IBM Europe and co-host on the day talked about some of the key challenges they are facing with skills shortages globally, “We are predicting a developer shortfall in the hundreds of thousands by 2020, which is a serious concern for the business” he said. “IBM are currently working globally to bridge this gap and looking at creative ways of engaging and attracting technical skills into the business”. Hackathons and meet-ups, which give IBM a platform to showcase their innovation to technical candidates but also encourages candidates to engage with each other, are proving to be effective in engaging digital talent.

The technical skills shortage is an issue globally for many employers but the UK is lagging behind other countries in tackling the issue. For example, in the US, Google have developed a university course specifically to bring vital digital skills into the workplace and IBM Germany are currently working with universities to look to reshape their learning for the workplace. But should we be influencing children earlier in their education? Katie Jacob, Finance Director for Customers at EDF Energy thinks so, “As employers, we need to be influencing children at school age. When they reach university, it is too late.”

It’s hard to disagree when in countries such as China children are already learning coding from the age of 7, yet 67% of primary and secondary school teachers in the UK believe they cannot teach coding due to lack of ‘skills and teaching tools’ (YouGov). There just isn’t the investment in change; our national curriculum is still teaching many traditional subjects which are irrelevant to the workplace. And with the UK education system currently focused on training students to pass exams rather than preparing them for the world of work, this is having a major impact for employers. IBM who employ over 350,000 globally are feeling the pressure more than most. As a consequence, they are working with other UK employers to lobby the government in developing the curriculum more in line with skills shortages in the workplace. The question is whether employers wait for the government to respond to this or if industry needs to drive and fund the change.

Millennials (born around 1982 to 1997) will make up over 50% of the workforce by 2020 and their influence on the culture of the workforce now and into the future were a topic for much discussion. Having grown up with digital technology at their fingertips, Millennials are very different to attract and retain than previous generations. Driven by challenge, flexibility and progression; technology is now pivotal in attraction. Employer branded social media campaigns promoting career progression, innovation and diversity are key, and creating a connection with leaders in the business is fundamental. Traditional sourcing of candidates is being automated and video job specs and interviews are replacing traditional interviews.

Flexibility is also key for this generation who are driving a more agile working environment through advances in technology and zero hours contracts. With technology enabling employees to work anywhere, anytime and data tracking output, there are few reasons to reject a flexible working policy which will certainly be pivotal in attracting and retaining some of the hard to find talent. Interestingly, it was discussed that women are more likely to take up flexible working than men who are still adopting a more traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday working week. Employers are on varying scales of implementation of flexible working policies. IBM are at the forefront with flexibility now fully integrated into their working practices. They have also developed campaigns using male management to promote and encourage more flexible working internally to attempt to rid of the stigma which has historically been attached to it.

Onboarding and development have also never been more important for employers in retaining talent. With more businesses competing for a limited pool of skills and a generation of Millennials who are, by nature, more demanding in personal development expectations, IBM have completely overhauled their management culture, renaming and training their managers to become coaches; tasked with guiding and supporting their teams through their career journey.

But whilst employers are developing their policies in line with a more digitally capable workforce, they are finding basic interpersonal, leadership and critical thinking skills which are fundamental for employability are lacking. “Customer service skills are becoming harder to source” said Darren Marsh, Managing Director for Eurocamp. “We recruit customer facing roles for our campsites across Europe and these basic human skills which have historically been easy to find are becoming more difficult to source”. So why is this? “Millennials are growing up in a digital world of immediacy which is preventing face to face interaction. If we are talking less and communicating more online, this has a huge impact on our ability to be able to interact with other humans.” says Lenna Thompson, Director for Broster Buchanan Talent Solutions. “These basic communication skills evolve into the rudimentary interpersonal skills that are required in the workplace like creativity, leadership, problem solving and resilience”. These are the skills that cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence and automation; yet we are at risk of losing them.

So, whilst businesses are reaping the benefits of automation in the workplace to drive efficiencies and cost savings, we need to be mindful of the future. Whilst on one hand, we need to go back to school to drive changes to the education system to see more relevant digital skills coming into the workplace; on the other hand, we need to remember the basics. We are humans, and the skills that are unique to us must not be lost. After all, we weren’t built to be robots.

‘The Future of the Workplace’ will be visiting Birmingham, Peterborough, Nottingham, Leeds and Newcastle in 2019 with additional events ‘Bridge the Gap’ to support a better partnership with schools and the workplace and ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ to further investigate some of the hot topics facing the UK’s employers.

To get involved please contact Lenna Thompson at Broster Buchanan Talent Solutions on 07377 625413.