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Despite the recession, the battle for talent is as fierce as ever

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

31 August 2012


A feature in the HR Magazine yesterday (30 Aug) once again tackled the myth of a labour market overflowing with skills. In fact, ‘recruiting the best people [is] as challenging now as it was at the height of the boom’.

Despite over a million of young people being unemployed, the skills that graduates are offering may not match exactly the employers’ demands. Employers from all sectors repeatedly report shortages of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) workers. In February 2011, a CBI survey suggested  43% of firms struggled to recruit staff with these skills. IT and data skills are frequently cited as the most widely needed by employers. The CIPD reported in June 2012 that 82% of large firms had experienced some recruitment difficulty in the past few months, with the figure at 82% in the public sector as well – this marks a sharp rise in recruitment difficulties over the past year.

Not only is it difficult to recruit the best people, it is also difficult to make them stay. Although, according to CIPD, the median labour turnover rate has decreased over the last few years, it is still high at 13.5% (2010 survey, compared to 17.3% in 2008). As in previous years, the majority of turnover is attributed to employees leaving voluntarily; and organisations struggle to replace experienced workers who are either moving to jobs which they are more satisfied with (particularly from the public sector, or retire due to age/ill health.

As a result, while there is an abundance of workforce for entry level jobs, there is a mismatch of skills acquired by graduates in education and the skills expected by the employers, who are short of funds to invest into retraining of staff. There are still at least two things that employers can do:

1.       Really understand what your employees want from their job and the employer, by gathering reliable information on the drivers of employee engagement, as opposed to running generic surveys that gather data which is difficult to interpret. They could also invest in sourcing and developing leadership from within, filling management positions with those who can treat staff as people and engage them by understanding what matters most.

2.       Secondly, employers could play a major role in shaping a  young workforce, so that the graduates are equipped with the necessary skills to enter the workplace and be successful in their first big job.


There always will be a limited number of jobs, and a limited number of people who can do those jobs well. Employers must not fall into the trap of thinking they can easily replace leaving employees. In the world where skilled individuals feel they need to have the bargaining power to demand optimal work terms, the battle for talent is as fierce as ever.