Outlook 2019: Businesses urged to think differently about attracting and retaining the right talent

Marketing a city as a better place to live and linking up with universities is vital to address the skills gap

Senior business leaders have urged firms to think differently about attracting and retaining the right talent across the north and West Midlands, so that the right skills are available to grow the regional economies. 

Richard Jeffrey, director of business growth at Manchester’s The Growth Company

Panellists at seminars held as part of TheBusinessDesk.com’s Outlook 2019 discussed the current situation in terms of the skills gap and what could be done to address the issue. Richard Jeffrey, director of business growth at Manchester’s The Growth Company, said businesses needed to understand the mindset of the younger workforce and what motivated them.  

He said: “We’ve found that one of the biggest drivers for recruiting young people is including a social media policy. We’ve also found that new employees want to work agile. So, as a result, we’ve gone completely agile. As long as employees get their hours in during the day, they can start earlier or later and work where they want.

“We’ve also changed our dress code so employees can wear what they want as long as it is appropriate. This has actually worked really well as it has changed the dynamic of the workplace and people really love it. These part of things are really important drivers for retaining and attracting employees.”

Panellists from the Liverpool seminar believed that marketing a city as a better place to live and work is a vital component to retaining and attracting the younger generation.

Colin Sinclair, CEO of Knowledge Quarter Liverpool

Colin Sinclair, CEO of Knowledge Quarter Liverpool, said: “There is nothing that stops anybody to work in Liverpool. The talent pool in Liverpool is as big and as good as the talent pool for Manchester or anywhere else in Lancashire. The graduate talent is here.

“I think it is more a brand the messaging and brand work we all need to do to convince people that the workforce and talent is in Liverpool and that it is a great place to work. It’s a marketing job.”

Craig Burrow, Leeds director of property firm  Bruntwood, said: “I see a conflicting view on skill shortages. If you take the likes of law firms Shoosmiths and Reed Smiths, which are relatively new to Leeds, they have been very successful in growing their businesses very quickly from a legal services point of view.

Craig Burrow, Leeds director of property firm  Bruntwood

“But as for some tech and digital companies, there is a difficulty in growing because of a shortage of talent in that sector. As tech is evolving at such a pace, courses at universities can’t keep up. When people start that course, the demands from a tech/digital role could be different as to when they finish.

“So I think it is important to look at how education can evolve and actually deliver courses/skills that businesses are looking for by the time that qualification is gained.”

Kersten England, chief executive at Bradford Council, added: “A critical area for skills is the partnerships between the public and private sectors. I think there is a major issue across the UK in the sense that our education curriculum became over academic and the ambition for everyone to go to university hasn’t helped our growth prospects. I think the the vocational education funding system is chaotic and confusing and the apprenticeship levy has been a difficult thing to make work.

Kersten England, chief executive at Bradford Council

“At every level of the health and care economy across the city region, we have skill shortages. We also have critical skills gaps around tech and engineering to name a few, and these things are constraining growth. I think, critically, we’ve got to reconnect education and employment.”

The theme of the development of the UK’s education system was also something that Ninder Johal, CEO at Nachural Records/Events and board member of the West Midlands Growth Company, echoed during the Birmingham seminar.

Johal said: “I’m convinced we have a shortage of digitally skilled and qualified people. We communicate differently and we work different, and I think our education system hasn’t kept up.”

David Wilton, Chief Financial Officer at Sumo Digital

David Wilton, Chief Financial Officer at Sumo Digital, echoed this statement during the Sheffield seminar. He said: “We talk with universities as we want to them to design the right courses which prepare people with the right skills. I did my degree in the 20th century and it was probably a 19th century degree. So education hasn’t quite caught up.

“For our business, it is really important to hire people with the right skills. So we need to be closely connected to schools and universities to train people ready for work.”

During the Manchester seminar, Tom Kellsall of DLA Piper UK, highlighted that Manchester had one of the highest retention rates of graduates staying in the region once leaving university, which he said “will continue to feed into the growth of the economy.”

He did, however, point out that as a result more businesses are competing to attract people from this talent pool, thus creating more demand for skilled employees.

Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital Centric

Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric, also noted that the “assumption that you have to move down to London to start a successful career and a better lifestyle” is changing dramatically.

Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments, also shared her thoughts at the Sheffield seminar that it is important for the government to fund colleges and into expanded apprenticeship schemes to “ensure we have homegrown skills going forward.”

However, she said that more needed to be done in offering alternative careers to the younger generation, explaining that further education isn’t the only option.

Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments

Clements added: “We also need to remove this mindset of the youth of today believe any career involving practical work with your hands is not a good career to be in. The reality is that a lot of university degrees don’t actually lead necessarily to jobs.

“Whether its engineering as well as construction, we need to work towards helping people understand that these are good, quality jobs and potentially quite well paid.”

Clare Gregory, partner at the Sheffield office of DLA Piper, also spoke on encouraging the universities’ graduates to stay.

She said: “There is an increase in the talent pool in terms of people coming to Sheffield to stay here for their first job, but they also need to stay for their second, third and fourth job.  The region needs businesses to offer this larger talent pool further opportunities to stay in Sheffield.”

Further coverage of topics discussed  throughout the Outlook 2019 series is to follow.

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