Author: Oliver Berger, Consultant, Leathwaite

I believe that businesses should shift their focus away from diversity, to inclusivity. By 2020, baby-boomers will be enjoying retirement but most industries will be continuing to wage a severe war for talent. The cross-sector talent pool is shrinking due to demographic shifts meaning that power over recruitment processes is shifting quickly from the employer to the employee. Businesses need to find candidates to fill vacant job roles so they cannot afford to be choosy. Focusing on putting processes in place to attract and retain the best available people in the market is essential and this, in turn, will promote a diverse workforce in the long-term.

Attracting and retaining men and women:

In order to access the whole talent pool, employers must consider the working environment that they are offering to potential candidates, within the widest possible context. For example, in the UK, all workers now have the right to request to work flexibly. These requests can be denied by employers for valid business-related reasons. However, it is no longer in the interest of companies to do this. If a skilled candidate can choose between a company that will allow them to work flexible hours to achieve a work-life balance and one that will not, the latter will miss out on those much needed skills.

Most large companies already run programs to get women back to work after time off during pregnancy and childcare; however many have been criticised for not offering more flexibility and support on the return to work. Some companies are starting to provide schemes to help women balance their work and home life, after having children. Others are also embracing the shared parental leave law in the UK, which allows a couple to split the statutory nine months off between them through maternity and paternity leave. These employers, who are on their way to focusing on a more inclusive working environment, will be far more attractive to people wishing to start a family in the future than those that do not.

Getting Government support:

The responsibility to allow parents to work not only lies with employers but also with the Government. Even the best “women back to work” programs won’t succeed unless governmental rules and regulations make going back to work worthwhile for women. Childcare is expensive and even if a couple can just about cope, it’s often still not worth the woman going back to work due to the financial strain caused. The issue is not only present in the UK. In Switzerland the tax system still favours a model where the husband works 100% and the wife stays at home. As soon as she starts working as well, the couple pays more income taxes on a percentage basis. Governments in every country need to push for regulatory reforms that allow companies to more easily accommodate the working habits of both parents and ensure that it pays off women to go back to work after maternity.

Attracting and retaining people of all ages:

Employers also need to embrace HR models that value skilled people of all ages. Many companies do try to retain people well into their 60s, and sometimes beyond, in order to preserve their knowledge. However, it is very difficult for people within that age bracket to move to a new job because they aren’t deemed to have enough working years left to offer.

The business value of older candidates in talent pools is unrivalled due to the skills they have gained from years of experience. In addition, the fact that they often prefer to work on a short term basis means they’re an increasingly useful resource. The HR industry is seeing a gradual shift towards a larger proportion of employees being brought into businesses on a short-term basis. This can be hugely beneficial for companies that need skilled people to lead short term change projects, such as the digitalisation of a business process or compliance programmes which require significant changes to business infrastructure.

Tapping into young talent:

Tapping into the skill sets of young people is also crucial for companies looking to bring in new talent. Companies and universities have a responsibility to work together to make the transition from studies to business life as smooth as possible for graduates. In most European countries, the average rate of unemployment for young people is still considerably higher than for other age groups. Even in Switzerland, where the overall unemployment rate is relatively low at 3.2% (August 2015), the unemployment rate for young people is 3.6% compared to 2.8% for people above 50. In Spain, the youth unemployment rate is dangerously high at 48.6% (July 2015.) For young people, getting their first job is therefore likely to be the hardest challenge they’ll face in their careers. Granted, governments need to do more in order to foster higher rates of youth employment but businesses also need to do their part to help young people into work.

Most major global banks run graduate programmes but employers should also consider running mentoring schemes to begin training students early on during their university course. This will ensure they can perform a productive, valuable role in the business from day one. In an increasingly digital world, young people that have been exposed to technology from a very young age can bring essential skills to workforces that older employees cannot. Running apprenticeships schemes is yet another great way to attract and retain fresh talent. Increased university fees in most European countries means more and more young people will be looking at other ways to enter the world of work. In fact, there are now nine applicants for every apprenticeship position in the UK.[i] Companies must not miss out on the opportunity to tap into this ever growing and improving talent pool.

It is time that businesses, governments and education worked together to address some of the biggest challenges facing both employers and workers today.  Businesses need to consider their entire employer value proposition and assess whether they are really pursuing a holistic approach to candidate attraction and staff retention to create an engaged, diverse and productive workforce. The question, therefore, is not whether we should focus on diversified teams, but how can we attract ALL talent to address the skills deficit.

[i] http://www.itpro.co.uk/strategy/25156/uk-turns-to-apprentices-to-fill-134000-strong-tech-skills-gap